Great Texas Balloon race launches first competition flight

Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 4:04 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2022 at 6:23 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The Great Texas Balloon Race took to the air this morning over Longview with their first competition flight of 2022, and many pilots found themselves a long way from the targets.

It started with a pilot’s briefing that revealed the targets’ weather, and the race was on. Forty-two-year veteran pilot Pat Cannon and fellow pilot Steve Lombardi, like the rest of the pilots, decided where they need to lift off to get to the targets.

“We’re going to put up a small piball up here to get the wind directions, so we can pick a good launch area,” Pat said.

A piball is a helium balloon that is released to track wind direction.

We hit the road.

“We’re heading down south here to this green area. We’re here now,” Pat said.

Green areas are good for launch, and it was literally green. Pat’s crew helped set up the balloon. And we were up.

“We went about three, four kilometers out. The minimum we had to go out was one kilometer. It’s hard to say what the winds will do. We took off a little right of everybody else,” Pat said.

We were nearly the last out of the pasture, and there were dozens of balloons in front of us.

“We may already have gone too far right,” Pat said.

The elusive left turn, well, it eluded us, and nearly everyone else.

“The C Target is probably at this point in time the best target for us to go to,” Pat said.

Pat stayed in radio communication with Steve, and, sometimes, they were close enough to just talk to each other without the radio.

“A fine kettle of fish this is,” Pat said.

Pat said we missed target A.

“We go too much farther to the right, we’re not going to be able to make B target either,” Pat said.

Only about a dozen pilots made it to targets. We didn’t, so all that was left was the Land Run, or the greatest area of the triangle task.

“When we passed by that first target, we had to fly for 10 minutes and that establishes a point B on the GPS. And then we change directions as much as we can for another 15 minutes. And that gives us the area of a triangle,” Pat said.

He said an imaginary line connects the points to create the triangle, and the biggest area wins. Then it was time to land, but there was a complication.

“There’s this great big thing of woods out here. I’m trying to stay away from that as much as I can,” Pat said.

Well, that was easier said than done since the wind really wanted us in the woods. But after climbing and then dropping from 4,200 feet, Pat found us a nice neighborhood right next to those woods, including a property owner who recorded us landing in her backyard.

“You’re fine!” she said.

Gotta love East Texans.

The Great Texas Balloon Race is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Longview Convention Center.

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