Great Texas Balloon Race launches its first competition flight

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) – The Great Texas Balloon Race took off this morning over Longview with its first competition flight of 2022, and many pilots found themselves well off the mark.

It started with a pilot briefing that revealed the weather for the targets, and the race began. Forty-two-year veteran pilot Pat Cannon and fellow pilot Steve Lombardi, like the rest of the pilots, decided where they needed to take off to hit the targets.

“We’re going to set up a little piball here to get the wind directions, so we can pick a good launch area,” Pat said.

A piball is a helium balloon that is launched to follow the direction of the wind.

We hit the road.

“We are heading south here in this green area. We are here now,” Pat said.

Green spaces are good for the launch, and it was literally green. Pat’s crew helped set up the balloon. And we were standing.

“We traveled about three, four kilometers. The minimum we had to walk was one kilometer. It’s hard to say what the winds will do. We kind of took everybody’s right,” Pat said.

We were almost the last to come out of the pasture and there were dozens of balloons in front of us.

“We may have already gone too far to the right,” Pat said.

The elusive left turn, well, it eluded us, and almost everyone else.

“Target C is probably at this point the best target we’re heading towards,” Pat said.

Pat stayed in radio communication with Steve, and sometimes they were close enough to talk without the radio.

“It’s a nice pot of fish,” Pat said.

Pat said we missed target A.

“We’re going too far to the right, we won’t be able to hit target B either,” Pat said.

Only a dozen pilots hit the targets. We didn’t, so all that was left was the Land Run, or the larger triangle task area.

“When we passed that first target, we must have been flying for 10 minutes and that established a point B on the GPS. And then we change direction as much as we can for another 15 minutes. And that gives us the area of ​​a triangle,” Pat said.

He said an imaginary line connects the dots to create the triangle, and the larger area wins. Then it was time to land, but there was a complication.

“There’s this big wooden thing here. I try to stay away from that as much as possible,” Pat said.

Well, that was easier said than done since the wind really wanted us in the woods. But after climbing and then falling 4,200 feet, Pat found us a nice neighborhood right by those woods, including an owner who recorded us landing in his backyard.

“You’re okay!” she says.

Gotta love East Texans.

The Great Texas Balloon Race takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Longview Convention Center.

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