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Balloonists stages third Kilgore race [Kilgore News Herald, Texas :: ]
[August 03, 2014]

Balloonists stages third Kilgore race [Kilgore News Herald, Texas :: ]

(Kilgore News Herald (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 02--Crews jumped into vehicles as 56 pilots darted out of the doors at Maude Cobb Convention Center in Longview, all searching for the perfect launch site for another day of the Balloon Federation of America's U.S. National Championships.

With technology on iPads and other tablet computers, some found their site on the side of a road, while others like Bill Adler found it in a local pasture -- with permission from the owners.

"We had the right spot," Adler said after loading his balloon onto the van following Wednesday's tasks.

In its third year in East Texas, the pilots put their balloons in the air Wednesday morning to sail over Kilgore and drop their flags at two different targets -- Danville Farms and Synergy Park.

With partly cloudy skies, many of the pilots and crew members checked their phones and tablets throughout the morning before the flight for updates on surrounding weather that might affect the flight.

Although none of the pilots or board members can control the weather, pilot Kelli Cook said, they can control their decision making on how to handle the weather.

The pilots always make the final call on whether to fly, said Rick James, Great Texas Balloon Race board member and fellow pilot, explained. For example, even though the balloons rose above the trees Wednesday morning, they remained on the ground Thursday.

When the pilots choose to fly they look at weather patterns both in the immediate flying area, as well as what may be 50 or 60 miles away and have an effect on the winds and the flight. Even with little or no wind at the surface, he said, there is a lot going on in the atmosphere -- wind at many levels and the pilots must find those winds to steer the balloon.

"We're so susceptible to those tiny changes," Cook said. "You know, things that somebody that's not familiar with the weather wouldn't even recognize can have a tremendous effect." No matter how good his plan is, James said, he always has to change it -- every time he puts a balloon in the air. "It's not ever exactly how it looks on the radar," but that is what he enjoys about ballooning.

With both experienced and rookie pilots competing, James said the pilots with the experience and skill to make it to the world competition are generally able to adapt more quickly on the ground and in the air.

In her first big competition, Cook was using Wednesday morning and the delayed pilots meeting to debrief her previous day's flight and prepare for her flight that morning. Originally from the East Texas area, Cook now lives in Denver, Colorado, and the U.S. Nationals was her first time to fly in East Texas in three years.

While Cook may be in secondto last place, James said, she is a "very good pilot" -- she's in the national competition with only two years as a licensed pilot.

"It's a great thing," he said about the U.S. Nationals. "I love having these pilots come in here just because you get to see, literally, the best pilots in the world." As they drove, Adler's crew was working quickly to put in the coordinates and calculate areas that would work as a launch site, checking the wind direction at one point, also.

As they search for a launch site, Adler's daughter Sue Todd no longer feels anxious or nervous. "I'm pretty calm now, but it used to be real nerve-wracking," she said. When she first started helping, she worried about her father's safety, as well as whether they would find the right place and get the balloon off the ground without any mistakes.

Once Adler landed, everyone agreed it was a fast day for him and Spitfire.

"I followed [the rest of the balloons] in to the target and came down (and) absolutely had perfect descent down to the target," Adler said oft the first target at Danville Farms. He guessed he was about one meter from the center of the target.

At the second target at Synergy Park, though, he said, he had a great flight but a bad throw, ending with his baggie landing in Elder Lake. He made sure, though, that he would not get points deducted for having a "lost bag." "I came over -- over -- the middle of the X," he said. "It's just that I was about 1800 feet coming over the middle of the X." If he had thrown his baggie at the X less than a minute earlier, he said, it would have been a perfect hit on the target.

Todd said the judges can look at the pilot's GPS history to track where Adler went during the day's race. The GPS, along with a radio allows Adler to communicate with his team, especially when it is time to land. At that point, Adler, along with many others, put their basket down between the tree line and the Highway 259 bypass.

While the U.S. Nationals last throughout the week, the GTBR pilots join them during the weekend. Even though they fly at the same time and complete the same tasks, he said, the groups are scored differently.

Even though it was originally a three-year contract for East Texas Regional Airport and the Longview and Kilgore areas to host the U.S. National Championship, it will be back here in 2015 as the competition transitions to a new city.

___ (c)2014 the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas) Visit the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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