LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - Thousands of folks are in East Texas, all to look up. The 31st Annual Great Texas Balloon Race is kicked off in Gregg County.
For all of the pilots that went up Friday morning, aside from the joy of flying, it was scoring points, and prize money, that was on their minds.
62 pilots scrambled out from the morning brief at Maude Cobb Activity Center to gage the wind and find the best spot to take off from.
"The winds sometimes are a little strange," said Pat Cannon, pilot of Rainbose Too. "However, it is a great challenge and the winds really keep it interesting. I've been up in this event and I've been down in this event."
Soon, airborne on a west wind, the sky was dotted with balloons, all trying to drop markers on two specified targets in the flight path. I went up with pilot John Cavin in the familiar Purple People Eater.
"You've got to have a good knowledge of what the winds are doing in the mornings," said Cavin. "Finding the exact spot to take off is very important."
For many pilots, it's experience that tells them when to climb or drop. It's a game of inches. Unlike other events, these are true pilots. It's not just instruments, it's instinct. They see the wind.
"Although you can navigate, you can't steer," said David Hoover. "You have to use wind currents that are available, at different altitudes to change your direction."
Round two of the target shoot begins Saturday morning around 7.