Competition day at Great Texas Balloon Race - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Competition day at Great Texas Balloon Race

(Source: KLTV) (Source: KLTV)
(KLTV) -

It was one of the most unusual days in the 40-year history of a classic East Texas ballooning event, one that challenged the skills of every single pilot.

The first substantial day of competition for pilots in the annual Great Texas balloon race was marked by an almost 'dead wind'.

In the pilots morning meeting at the East Texas Regional Airport in Gregg County, it looked like another flight day would be canceled because of weather, but then a 'go' was given and a scramble to get airborne and get to the targets.

"Going from playing checkers to playing chess. For every move you make, mother nature makes a counter move," says pilot Bob Gonzales.

"The name of the game is patience, and lot of it is getting to goal and get that right score," says New Mexico pilot Jonathan Wright.

But as pilots approached the scoring area, the wind disappeared, leaving many at a dead stop.

"It was some of the strangest weather that we've had in a long time. Stable but unpredictable. I couldn't believe it.  And it stopped. It just totally stopped. And I sat there for about 5 minutes," says pilot Bruce Bussey.

"Real slow, very little speed wind direction changing constantly difficult to predict," Wright says.

In a masterful display of skill, pilots played a game of wind cat-and-mouse maneuvering to the targets and scoring.

"Far above expectations. I had no idea that we would be so close. If we force the issue we would have been way off. We opted for another target, flew right over the top of it," says spectator Suzanne Puryear.

Pilot Branden Heavin ringed the pole. The trick for pirates was quick elevation, catching a breeze, and then right back down.

"We just kept going up and down until we got to the target area," Bussey says.

The final day of the Great Texas balloon race begins Sunday morning at 7 a.m.

For a detailed schedule of the remaining events, just head to or and click on the big red box.

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