Safety First, Adventure Second

Guest contributor: Susan Zacheis

“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.

Did you know North Texas winds play a significant factor in determining suitable weather conditions to launch? Winds have to be under 10 miles an hour to take a hot air balloon up in the air, and under 7 or 8 miles an hour to take passengers up. Thus began a demonstration by Keith and his crew on the numerous steps and safety guidelines followed in preparing a balloon to fly.

Once a balloon has been cleared to launch, there’s a team on the ground monitoring the balloon every step of the way. The ground crew, assisted by members of the Plano Amateur Radio Klub, communicates with the pilot via ham radio, and follows the balloon to provide guidance on landing.   With a support system like that, I began to think I might just be able to give it a try.

In addition to being the pilot and owner of “Highly Cool”, Keith also serves as Safety Officer of the Plano Balloon Festival, and served as the Weather Officer before that. Knowing that there is a dedicated Safety Officer monitoring adherence to safety guidelines and a dedicated Weather Officer monitoring weather conditions eased my mind. There is even a Balloonmeister who functions as the “Air Boss” over both the Safety and Weather Officers and all the ground crews. Wow, I think these guys do follow my “Safety First” motto!

I was ready to throw caution to the wind and fly! Actually, it was just a tethered balloon ride, but a big step for me. The take-off was effortless, and we gently floated up. Not quite up, up, and away, but just enough for a first experience. It was absolutely amazing and I have pictures to prove it on the Plano Balloon Festival Facebook page! I look forward to venturing all the way up, up and away the next time. Safety first, of course!

Volunteers interested in serving on a balloon crew team may contact or check out additional details online:

Tethered rides will be offered to the public, weather permitting, during the weekend of the 2014 InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival being held September 19-21 at Oak Point Park. Rides will be sold on a first come first serve basis, $20 adults and $15 children. Guidelines and waiver forms to be provided to all individuals prior to each ride.

Susan Zacheis is the owner of GenCo Communications and a North Texas non-profit marketing consultant who specializes in public relations and grant writing. Contact Susan via email: to learn more about her recent Plano Balloon Festival adventure or for questions about her services.

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