Hot-air ballooning for the purpose of human transport dates back to November 21, 1783, when a silk-and-paper balloon ascended above Paris carrying Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Fancois Laurent, Marquis of Arlanders. It flew for about 25 minutes and covered more than five miles, landing in a farming area outside the city, according to the National Balloon Museum and Ballooning Hall of Fame in Indianola, Iowa.
These inaugural aeronauts rode on a circular platform attached to the bottom of the balloon and fed the craft’s fire by hand through openings in its skirt. For the next roughly 120 years until airplanes came along, when people talked about flying, they meant ballooning. Even today, the basics of hot-air ballooning haven’t changed much since those early days.
Of course, one could make the same case for airplanes. How different are the Piper Cub, Cessna 172, and Cirrus SR22T from the Wright Flyer of 1903? Let’s save that debate for another day and simply agree that whatever you are flying, it would be worth your while to land at one of the airport-based balloon festivals on our list below. Or find one closer to home and give it a try. Pilots who fly in sometimes get special treatment. Certainly the parking is better.
Arlington Municipal Airport (KAWO), Arlington, Washington
Balloons are part of an appealing three-day weekend at Arlington that begins with fly-in camping on Friday. Organizers encourage camping under your airplane’s wing, and pilots do not need to reserve a spot the way drivers do—a nice perk. Balloons fly on Saturday after an air show that includes a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, and P-51 Mustang. Sunday is Airport Community Fun Day.
Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival
June 30-July 4
Battle Creek Executive Airport (KBTL), Battle Creek, Michigan
There are balloons scheduled to launch and land each day of this aviation extravaganza. In between, there are a few other things you might like to see, such as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet “Rhino” Demo Team, and two teams—one Air Force and one Navy—flying F-35 variants. Numerous additional aerobatic performers and skydivers fill out a program.
Defiance Hot Air Balloon Festival
Defiance Municipal Airport (KDFI), Defiance, Ohio
This event is all about the balloons, which are scheduled to fly in the morning and evening. There is also a planned “encore glow event” at the end of the night. Early risers often are rewarded at balloon events because the dawn calm is ideal for launching and you get to see a lot of balloons in a fairly tight group. The gathering includes live music, plenty of food, a marketplace, and a Fun Zone for kids.
Hot Air Affair
Cameron Memorial Airport (KEZZ), Cameron, Missouri
Inspiration for Cameron’s first-time balloon event reportedly came to organizer Denise Maddex in a dream. The schedule includes balloon competitions both mornings with additional flights in the afternoon and evening. There is also live music, laser tag, inflatables, food trucks, and lots of vendors. The Great American Kite Show will be going on from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and kids will receive free kites to assemble while supplies last.
The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning
Solberg Airport (N51), Whitehouse Station, New Jersey
I’ve lost count of the times I have been to this festival, which began in 1983. It is renowned for typically featuring at least 100 balloons launching together during morning and evening displays. Attendees can become part of the event by purchasing tickets to ride in balloons during the mass flights. The festival is also known for its food, which ranges from the expected burgers and sandwiches to Italian sausage and other international cuisines.
Wausau Balloon & Rib Fest Rally with Boomboxx
Wausau Downtown Airport (KAUW), Wausau, Wisconsin
Hot-air balloons, music, and good food have traditionally gone together for a long time, and this festival, which is marking its seventh year, is known for thoughtfully combining these elements. Fans of ribs are likely to find their ideal preparation among the many rib vendors scheduled to be on hand. Music comes from Boomboxx, a Wisconsin institution, and fans say it’s not your run-of-the-mill cover band.