The Eighth Annual Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival, sponsored by the Mesquite Resort Association, was held Jan. 25-27 with spectacular sights of 33 colorful balloons taking flight.
During the three-day event, local residents have a chance to volunteer to work crews/chase teams for the balloon pilots and some even get lucky enough to take a ride.
Marie Sweet of Beaver Dam, AZ took her first hot air balloon ride in “Twister” a balloon owned by Pilot Lyle Bingham. Bingham flies “Twister” in commercial endeavors for his company Hot Air Enterprises LC.
Bingham has been piloting balloons for 20 years; this festival was the start of his 21.
Bingham bought his first balloon in 1998 and became a commercial pilot in 2003. His interest in hot air balloons came from his school’s Weekly Reader. He read about some research being done to test space suit development, hot air balloons were somehow involved. A few years later, during a local balloon festival someone landed one in his neighborhood. Bingham said his daughter was about four years old and she along with the rest of the kids were anticipating getting a ride from the pilot who was freely giving the kids a floating thrill. Bingham’s daughter couldn’t see over the side of the basket. Dad had to hold her and take that first ride with his baby girl. He helped the pilot take the balloon down that day and the following day Bingham helped him set up and take down the balloon. The pilot promised to come back the following year but never did so he helped someone else; he did that for about eight or nine years before deciding to take the plunge and purchase his own balloon.
Sweet said her first ride was “SWEET!” Bingham expertly floated them from the Oasis parking lot to the Ford dealership and landed quite gently with just one hop before touching safely down in the dirt. She said that she never imagined the ride to be so smooth quiet in between bursts of fire from the burners.
“I didn’t really know what to expect but I definitely didn’t expect it to be so smooth. You can’t imagine what it means to ‘float on air’ until you really do float on air; it was very surreal. I was also anticipating a much harder landing but Lyle was an incredible pilot and he explained quite a bit about balloons while we were traveling.”
As tradition dictates, after a safe landing, newbies to the air toast their safe landing with champagne, in this case sparkling cider.
Superstition also plays in this tradition; the newbies must drink their champagne without the benefit of using their hands. If drops of liquid are spilled, it is said that the pilots next flight will not a smooth one. Of course, no tradition is any fun without a little practical joke thrown in for laughs. Bingham’s son, Ryan, was waiting behind the newbies and as they picked up the glasses in their teeth, young Bingham poured a few drops of water over their heads, “It’s less sticky than the champagne, “said both Binghams as everybody had a good laugh.
The balloons come in all shapes and sizes but most are about 60 feet across when fully inflated and over 90 feet tall. They weigh a whopping 250 pounds and with the rest of the equipment, basket, tanks and burners they weigh in at 650 pounds all together.
One of the more spectacular evening events is the night glow. Balloonists inflate the balloons at night while keeping them tethered to the ground and fuel the fires that set them aglow. Pilots are more than willing to share the information about their balloons and ballooning in general with the public who can get an up close and personal encounter with the giant night lights.
This year’s Balloon Fest went off without fail. In some of the years prior, weather conditions halted the ability to launch the balloons but this year the weather was perfect. The skies were calm and balloons took to the Mesquite skies on all three days.