National Balloon Classic



The world was green and faintly golden, and lovely to be floating over with my beautiful balloon bouquet. I settled back to enjoy the ride, thinking of Tennyson's "The Lotos-Eaters":

In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.




After an hour in the air, it was time to start thinking about landing. I released a few balloons and started a long, slow descent. I was still heading southeast, well off the map now. Shadows from the tree lines and hillocks were growing longer across the countryside.



When I got down to four or five hundred feet, I radioed my chase crew that I was starting to look for a place to land. I passed over a few large planted fields, but didn't see any large clear areas to land. At this point the road grid, which had been pretty consistent for many miles, became more irregular. The road I was paralleling dead-ended. I sent the truck half a mile to the south, to where I could see a small town and guessed that there must be an east-west road that would go through.

I dropped in to a couple of hundred feet. There were some cut hayfields that looked like plausible landing spots, but with crew trying to detour around to reach me, I didn't want to land. I flew over a few more corn fields. The last field ended at a road, bordered by some powerlines; on the other side of the road was a pond and then a line of trees, and then what seemed to be an unplanted field. I was my truck headed up the road from the south. It didn't look like there was any clear space between the end of the corn and the powerlines, and on the far side, it looked like there was a fence and a steep slope down to the pond. I radioed crew that I was going to try to land.


Paul Lodola


I released a last balloon, setting up a shallow descent that cleared the powerlines by twenty feet or so. Then I was over the road and then the pond, dropping ballast to clear the line of trees beyond. As my feet went through the top branches of the trees, I glanced into the field beyond to verify that it was clear, then cut away three balloons at once. I dropped quickly and landed heavily but on my feet, in a field full of feathery white Queen Anne's lace.


I radioed crew that I was all right, and told them that I thought they could access the field I was in from the south. I could see the truck out on the road, out beyond the trees and the pond, one property to the north. They turned around and went south, but radioed that there was no way in to the field from the property to the south, and went back out on the road to try from the north again.

I was getting ready to try to walk out a way when a man and a women rolled up in a little utility vehicle. They asked if I needed help. I explained that my friends were in a truck trying to get in here. They told me that there was indeed a way in from the south, but it was overgrown and hard to see. I radioed my crew to go to the south again. The woman, Mary Jo, drove out to guide them in, while the man, Don, stayed to talk. They lived nearby, and this land belonged to his parents. I learned that I was near the town of Melcher-Dallas, about 17 miles from Indianola.



After a few minutes Mary Jo returned with my truck following her. We asked Don if he wanted to go up on tether before we put the balloons away. He'd gone on his first hot-air balloon ride just a few weeks before, and was ready to give the cluster balloon a try. So we let him up on tether, followed by Mary Jo and our volunteer crew from the Classic (Mark, John, Shea and John) and my girlfriend Marj. It was full dark by the time we put the balloons away and bade our hosts good night.



Ernie, Marj and I spent another week in Indianola for the Classic, which is a nine-day event. I had some nice flights in my hot-air balloon, and it was easy to see why balloonists had made place this one of the great homes of modern sport ballooning in America.



A second cluster flight planned for the following Friday had to be cancelled due to strong winds on the last two days of the event. It was a disappointment, but at least that time, the forecast was extremely bad, so there was really no chance of anyone flying. Things are a lot more relaxed when conditions are either obviously bad or obviously good.


On the final day of the Classic, I visited the National Balloon Museum. In the back room, there's a small exhibit on cluster ballooning. I donated one of the balloons I'd flown with at the Classic to join the photos of me on display there. It felt good to be remembered in a place like Indianola, which after forty years still welcomes balloons.



Celebration LIX

Crew Chief: Ernie Hartt

Principal Crew: Mark Clark, John Dawson, John and Shay Willett

Special Thanks to: Inflation Crew Volunteers; National Balloon Classic (Greg Marchant, Executive Director)

Photography: Marjorie Walters, Angie Kufner, Lois Lodola, Paul Lodola, Nicole Peterson, Daniel Roulston, Jeffrey Billings, Jason Cross, Dennis Nicholson, John Ninomiya







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