Preparations begin for Great Texas balloon race pilots - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Preparations begin for Great Texas balloon race pilots

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) -

All preparations are being made for a national championship run to be held in the skies over East Texas.

The Great Texas balloon race U.S. national championships will begin in Gregg County on Tuesday. The traditional start to the race is the pilots registration, and they're ready.

"I'm feeling excited. I've been to a couple of nationals before but now were in the bigs," says Michigan pilot Steve King.

The past two years have been a boon for the local economy with organizers saying last year alone $900,000 was spent in Gregg County by race visitors.

"It's amazing the amount of replies we get from retailers who say that they also get the benefits, so its not just the restaurants and hotels and service stations, but its also the retailers that recognize it," says race chairman Frankie Parson.

And with the nationals, come thousands of visitors from out of state bringing their money.

"It expanded our event basically from a 3-day event at the airport to a 7-10 day event," Parson says.

For physically challenged pilots like Michael Glen of Arizona, it's an even playing field that depends on skill, not physical ability.

"It's easily one of the top events in the United States. In 2006, I became the only paraplegic pilot in the world. It's absolutely game time. Everybody's going through their mental preparations and making sure their equipment is ready and set the way they want it, and ready to go for Tuesday morning," Glen says.

"It has clearly put us on the national stage," Parson says.

The only wild card is watching the weather for good flying conditions.

"When you get to the point where you're coming in and you've got eyes on the target, whatever, at that point its all instinct that takes over. We're feeling good," King says.

National race organizers have awarded Longview the U.S national championships for 2015 as well, allowing Longview to host the event for 4 straight years.

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