RISE Hattiesburg Hot Air Balloon Festival gets ready to take off

The RISE Hattiesburg Hot Air Balloon Festival starts Friday, Aug. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center.
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:31 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - One event is getting ready to take off in the Pine Belt.

The RISE Hattiesburg Hot Air Balloon Festival starts Friday, Aug. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center.

With the balloons expected to take flight Friday evening, balloon meister Ken Johnston said the participants need days to prepare before taking off.

“When we are ready to fly, we start watching the weather two to three days out,” said Johnston. “We’ve got several apps we go to on the internet. We get more information on what it’s doing locally there with just a helium balloon. We fill it up with helium, and with it say, ‘Ok, we’ve got landing stops downwind from here or no, we’ve got to move to another location.’”

Even the planes traveling about 120 mph during the national anthem will take preparation.

Jim “Batman” Helms, a Tiger Trac Formation Team pilot, said the planes are limited to 1,000 feet off the ground, so weather plays a significant factor before they can fly.

“Wind is one thing, cloud height, visibility; we have to have a certain visibility for other aircraft in the area,” said Helms. “So before this show, we talked to the airport, and they put out what they call a NOTAM, which is a notice to airmen that we are going to be on the west side of the airport doing these maneuvers. So, we will be monitoring their frequency as well as talking to each other to coordinate everything.”

Johnston said his favorite part isn’t lighting the big flame under the balloon but watching the faces of those around him light up with a smile.

“Especially in an area like this, that hasn’t really seen balloons before,” said Johnston. “When we get them puffed up and inflated, and then you hit that burner, and they are loud and shoot the flame about 15 to 20 feet up into the envelope there. And when it starts rising up, you can see the little kids’ eyes get bigger and bigger, and to me that’s what it’s all about, to give them something to think about from now on and say, ‘Hey, that was pretty sharp.’”

The festival will also provide balloon tethered rides Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets will be for sale at the event.

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