From the moment Joe and Sue Calabrette first saw a hot air balloon flying over the Dallas skyline in 1979, they were hooked. Living in Plano at the time, Joe bought a flight for Sue as a birthday present.
Upon arrival at the field, Joe realized the flight was for two people, and they both hopped aboard. Their first flight lasted two hours and flew them from Mesquite to Duncanville, over dozens of fields and several airports. Not long after, Joe began training for his pilot’s license with the owner of the balloon. He became a commercial pilot in order to train his wife and take others up in their first balloon, the Big Red.
They have had three balloons since they began flying, all red balloons with blue accents. Their newest balloon, Big Red Again, is a combination of the first two designs and names. Three is an impressively low number of balloons for how often they fly, which they attribute to the tremendous care of each hot air balloon.
Not long after becoming balloonists, Joe and Sue helped start the Plano Ballooning Association. They have been a part of the Plano Balloon Festival since its inception, acting as liaisons to the ballooning club. They acted as the co-chairmen for the second Plano Balloon Festival in 1981 and have served as the Balloonmeister several times. The Balloonmeister is the unofficial captain of any ballooning event, overseeing the other balloonists and ensuring their safety. They have the final say in whether the balloons can fly. For example, if this year’s Festival is too windy or the conditions are poor for flying or landing, the Balloonmeister may delay the launch to ensure the safety of the pilots and crew.
In 1996 Joe and Sue moved to California, taking their balloon with them. Unlike Texas, Californian balloonists can only fly in the morning, before the winds get too high. Generally, balloonists avoid flying in wind speeds of over 7 mph.
One of their most harrowing flying experiences took place in Morgan Hill, California. Joe had gone up with a family friend and her elderly aunt. They were already up in the air when Tule Fog, ground fog mostly seen in California’s Great Central Valley, gathered underneath them. The fog was so dense they could see the reflection of their balloon in the fog below, and nothing of the ground.
Unable to see where to land, Joe descended slowly, looking for trees and other obstacles. He finally found the parking lot of the reservoir, where he was able to land on the steep hill surrounding the area. The family friend jumped out and tied the balloon to a nearby boulder before the balloon could take off again. When Sue and the rest of their ground crew found them, they were tied to the rock and being blown in the wind.
They have returned to Plano in recent years and have continued to attend the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival, missing fewer than five since its inception. While they no longer fly people commercially, they enjoy flying both locally and nationally and can often be seen over the Plano skyline in their gorgeous red balloon.
Guest contributor Ali Weiss, local freelance writer.
If you ever receive a balloonist’s card, keep it. Just like baseball or Pokemon cards, a balloonist’s card is an important symbol of who they’ve met over the years while traveling. Richard, owner of the Golden High Balloon, has countless cards from people he’s met around the world.
Richard began flying as a small plane pilot. Upon receiving his pilot’s license, he would fly to New York City with dates. He loved the freedom of flying, but being a pilot is also incredibly restrictive, from filing flight plans to no drinking.
In 1989, he was introduced to hot air balloons through Re/Max, where he worked in Augusta, Georgia. “The first flight is free, the next one is $30,000.”
He bought his first hot air balloon from Re/Max and now owns his third balloon. Golden High is a custom designed balloon, which means he went to the manufacturer to choose the size, the color each fabric panel color and design from the basket up to the parachute valve.
“I’ve flown over 900 hours, including Italy, Yugoslavia, and across the United States,” says the pilot.
Near to his Dallas home, Golden High participates in his favorite event, the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. A lover of small festivals as well as large, Richard enjoys the all weekend event as much as the rest of us. His first experience, when he moved here in 2010, also introduced him to his crew, who were volunteers. Now, he and his crew are close friends; they travel with him to many of his events.
On the day of the festival, Richard and his team will wake up while we’re still counting sheep and head out to the field to fuel up. Then lay out the balloon and inflate it with a fan before heating the air with the burner just in time for takeoff after sunrise.
Once they’re up in the air, the wind will take them until they can find a place to land. Landing is a bit of skill and a lot of luck since the balloon has no way to steer. Before they launch, they study the wind patterns and plot out several options for landing.
Even with all their planning, landing is a game of chance. They try to avoid landing on private property, so they aim for public land or parks, which aren’t always massive open areas designed for a large hot air balloon to land.
Once safely on the ground, they embrace the 200-year old tradition of the Balloonist’s Prayer, and of course, champagne. They’ll then refuel and return to the festival for the evening launch before regrouping for the hot air balloon glow at sunset.
Golden High, Richard, and his crew will be on the field among the many hot air balloons September 23-25, 2016 at the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. Admission is only $5 and the full schedule of activities available on the website: www.planoballoonfest.org.
“Safety first” has always been my motto as an overprotective mother of two. In addition to being a neurotic mother, I am also afraid of heights, so the thought of being miles above the ground in a hot air balloon was a little terrifying. However, my sense of adventure prevailed through the research for this blog.
I got up bright and early on a recent Saturday morning to be part of a volunteer crew training session with some of the pilots and their balloons. It was a beautiful sunrise at Oak Point Park with not a bit of wind, or so I thought. Keith Berry, pilot of “Highly Cool”, said they wouldn’t be able to hold the balloon competition because of the windy conditions. I was quite surprised and notably the first clue that these guys might just follow my “Safety First” motto. Continue reading “Safety First, Adventure Second”
September has arrived and the City of Plano will host their biggest event of the year, the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. The festival will run from Friday September 19 through Sunday the 21. This event does a great job of offering a source of fun and entertainment for everyone. There’s food, hot air balloons, concerts, kid areas and much more, so how could this weekend possibly get better? End it with a half marathon of course!
About a year and half ago I started running, and very shortly after I wanted to do a half marathon. I always had my mind set on the Plano Balloon Festival Half Marathon, however I was terrified after someone mentioned that the course was very hilly. At the time, I would consider myself to be an infant runner, I did not understand that it’s next to impossible to find a flat half marathon and hills make you a better runner. Fast forward a year and I’m back at the dilemma again of do I attempt to battle the hills?
Of course I want battle the hills, but I need to at least drive the course to get some sort of an idea of the actual elevations. What one person considers hilly, another will call flat so it’s best to drive a course if possible to get your own feeling about the course. I set out in my car and drove what I could of the course. Yes, I saw two hills that made me question why I would run this race but then I realized something important. Two hills over 13.1 miles is a pretty good ratio, and the view the hills offers are absolutely amazing. The drive around the course was peaceful, and I can only imagine what it would be like to actually run it.
The beautiful parks, trees, clear view of the sky, the neighborhood, and the small lake eased any nervousness I had about the course. I strongly believe this is the ideal local half marathon to run. Not only does the course offer scenery you can’t get while sitting in a car, the swag is amazing. Each half marathoner will get a technical shirt, VIP parking pass, catered breakfast (yum), custom finisher’s medal, and two tickets to the festival.
I look forward to Sunday, September 21 when I’m standing at the starting line watching the balloons float up and away in the sky. I’m excited for the sound of running a race with other runners by my side supporting me, and me doing the same for them along a beautiful course. The medal, which is the most important part to some, will be the greatest and most priceless achievement. It is the concrete symbol of accomplishment that I hope to be wearing soon. Register online and join me at the epic Plano Balloon Festival Half Marathon adventure.
This summer the Plano Balloon Festival, Inc. received an incredible list of honors during the marketing awards competition at the annual Texas Festivals and Events Association (TFEA) Conference in Austin, Texas. The awards given were for marketing materials designed for the event last year that was themed “Paint the Skies”.
More than 430 entries were submitted across this great State of Texas and we are so proud to have been recognized in multiple categories for our marketing efforts. The 1st Place honors included: Event Website, Best Promo Brochure, Best Misc Printed Material, Best Event Photograph, and Best Other Merchandise. The 2nd place honors included: Best Event Poster, Best Event T-Shirt Design, and Best Hat. The 3rd place honor was for Best T-Shirt Design.
This year the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival includes a new theme “Alive with Color” to be held September 19-21, 2014 at Oak Point Park in Plano, TX. Additional details and the schedule of events for the festival are available here: http://www.planoballoonfest.org/event-information
The InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival & Run held its first annual photo contest this summer and the judging concluded with five winning photographs. The contest was co-sponsored by AlleeOops Photography, owned by award-winning photographer, Janelle Twyford-Sylvis, who also serves as a member on the Plano Balloon Festival Inc. Board of Directors.
“AlleeOops Photography is proud to be a part of this new element of the festival. The winning photos reflect different aspects of ballooning and the emotions we all experience when we see them take flight,” said Janelle Twyford-Sylvis.
Adult (18 and over) professional and amateur photographers from across the nation submitted digital entries online through CallForEntry.org. The panel of judges convened at Corner Wines in Plano to vote for the top images in each category and the following winners were selected:
Most Creative – Amy Leone
Best Technical – Kelsey Kruzich
Best Elemental – Bre Fitzgerald
Best Aerial – Tayla Arbisser
Best of Show – Cece Liekar
The winning photographs will be printed and mounted by BWC Imaging, used for a touring photo exhibit, and on display September 19-21, 2014 at the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival & Run.
Celebrating more than 35 years as a community non-profit, the Plano Balloon Festival, Inc. anticipates that thousands of new pictures will be captured this year by attendees. Photographers are invited to participate next year in the 2015 photo contest that will include new categories for additional age groups (17 and younger). The schedule of events for the festival may be found on the website: www.planoballoonfest.org. Social tags
Instagram: #planoballoon About Plano Balloon Festival, Inc.
The Plano Balloon Festival, Inc. is a non-profit 501c3 organized in 1987 for the purpose of staging a premier community-based and family-oriented hot air balloon event, offering other local non-profits volunteer opportunities within the Festival operations. The Plano Balloon Festival, Inc. makes a direct impact on the Collin County community by dispersing funds to participating non-profit agencies and has donated more than $2.5 million since inception.
Professional and amateur photographers from across the nation have an opportunity to participate in the 2014 Inaugural InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival photo contest sponsored by the Plano Balloon Festival, Inc. and AlleeOops Photography. Media is limited to photography.
Digital photos must be submitted online through CaFE https://www.callforentry.org/no later than July 15, 2014 along with the $28.00 fee for one entry. The two entry fee is $35.00. Entrants agree to enter their images via digital transmission at a maximum of 4000 pixels on the longest edge, 300 dpi.
Judging will take place on July 17, 2014 and winner notification will be no later than July 21, 2014. Winning images will be printed and mounted by BWC Imaging. These prints will be used for a touring photo exhibit and promotion of the event. The top five winning photographs will be on display at the festival September 19-21, 2014.
Entrants grant Plano Balloon Festival, Inc. the license to promote the festival using their photos.
1) Under 18 (17 and younger) – Overall for Age Group
2) Under 18 (17 and younger) – Most Creative or Unusual in this Age Group
3) Adult (18 and older) – Overall for Age Group
4) Adult (18 and older) – Most Creative or Unusual in this Age Group
5) Overall Plano Balloon Festival Photo Contest Winner