Pilots arrive for national hot air balloon championships - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Pilots arrive for national hot air balloon championships

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GREGG COUNTY, TX (KLTV) -

Pilots are arriving in Longview for the annual great Texas balloon race, with a national championship on the line. By morning in Gregg County, pilots will already be testing their equipment and gauging the wind , as the second year of the national hot air balloon championships are held in Gregg County.

"It always filters down to a certain 5 to 10 guys at almost every event. Its going to be a tough one. Its the big show, competing for the US national championship trying to get to the world championship," says pilot Rhett Heartsill.

Strategy started almost immediately as the pilots checked in Sunday.

"You kind of want to plan your strategy for flying into the target so that you're not going to be blocked off," says North Carolina pilot Sam Parks.    

From all over the country, they've come to see if this race will be theirs. And they've already done homework.

"The strategy starts before we arrive, we start looking at weather at least ten days in advance," Parks says.  

Its more than just a single-man race; ballooning is a team event.

"The crew is 50 percent at least, they have the support they have to make sure you're flying safe and get to the targets," Heartsill says.

"I've always believed if you fly with the best, that's your best challenge," says pilot Bill Adler.

Some have chased the title for many years.

"I've been chasing it a long time, 23 years. I came close one time; I finished second," Parks says.   

All of the over 70 pilots hope they come away a champion.

"Everybody's got a shot at winning, that's what its all about," Adler says.

The first practice flight across Longview will be at 6:30 on Monday morning.

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