How to Watch Topeka’s Free 2022 Huff ‘n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally

Science, in principle, is simple.

Warm air is lighter than cold, so it rises. More technically, cold air, being dense and “heavier”, collects at the bottom of a given area – in this case, the atmosphere – and pushes any warm air upwards.

So you are taught science in college.

But the scientific principle has little to do with the magic that takes place in the quarter-ton basket – held aloft by thin strands of rope tied to a vast rainbow envelope. of hot gas in a clear blue sky – as it floats lazily several hundred feet high above the treetops and the outstretched hands of waving children.

It’s magic that Tony Goodnow grew up loving, ever since his parents took him on hot air balloon rides when he was around 6 months old.

Over southwest Topeka, Tony Goodnow lights the burner of the Libertas hot air balloon.  Goodnow, now 47, grew up around hot air balloons his entire life, and he pointed to the western Topeka field from which his late father allowed him to pilot his first solo flight at age 16.

“I never really knew anything different,” said Goodnow, as he pulled a line of control and waves of heat and furious sound raged from his hot-air balloon burner. “It was just normal when I was a kid.

“I know I got to experience a lot of things that the other kids didn’t experience,” he continued, after another blast of warm air in the sky over southwestern Topeka. “We’ve never had a boat or been to the lake or anything like that, but I have to do something they couldn’t do.”

Balloons, compared to their winged, heavier-than-air counterparts in airplanes, are uncomplicated, Goodnow said.

He still worries that one day science will figure out how planes stay aloft and they’ll stop working, Goodnow says wryly, but hot air balloons – or baskets “held up by a cloth bag , themselves held up by heat in the air” – is something he still understands.

Every breeze, every wind and every landing is different, so every flight is a new adventure. Goodnow learned this from his father, who helped instill a love of hot air balloons before his death in 2006.

Together, Goodnow, her mother Connie, her daughter Taylor and other friends and family members still participate in around 30 hot air balloon rides each year, some at local gatherings and others at national festivals.

A few of those rides will take place this weekend, at the Huff ‘n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally, where approximately 20 balloons will be launched from Mount Hope Cemetery west of Topeka Friday night, Saturday morning and night and Sunday morning.

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A large family of hot air balloons stretching across the plains

Hot air balloon pilots Tony Goodnow and Michael Scott check wind patterns and maps before choosing a site from which to launch the balloons.  Goodnow and Scott were two of four pilots demonstrating hot air balloon operations to the media ahead of this weekend's Huff 'n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally.

Connie knows it’s the 47th annual rally, because that’s her son Tony’s age, and she still considers him her “Huff ‘n Puff baby.”

In the hot air balloon community, Connie says she, her late husband and children have found a second family, with friends and pilots from all over the area. Drivers from Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and even Florida will join the Topeka-based Goodnows and other Kansas drivers for the weekend’s rally.

“It’s very united and it’s a family,” Connie said. “It could be a hundred names, but it’s family.”

Taylor, a sophomore at Seaman High School, has yet to fly solo, as her father first did when she was 16. Funny enough, she – like so many other hot air balloon pilots – is afraid of heights.

Tony Goodnow and several family members and friends unload the gondola from the Libertas hot air balloon.  Fully loaded with fuel, the wicker basket weighs approximately 500 pounds, excluding the pilot and passengers.

But a hot air balloon is different.

“It’s relaxing,” she said. “It’s soothing. You get the chance to relax, almost like meditation, but in the air.”

As Tony Goodnow was looking for a place to land on Wednesday evening, he passed the same field where his father left him on his first solo flight. In theory, hot air ballooning only gets exciting when things go wrong, but he smiled as he passed that field.

He gently landed the Libertas hot air balloon in tall grass, next to the abandoned debris of a house demolished long ago. The mechanics of what he does as a pilot are simple, but he’s a well-experienced hand who knows when to fire the burner and when to let out hot air.

“Science tells you what to do, but art executes it correctly,” he said.

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Where, when to see the 2022 Huff ‘n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally

Hank Vawter holds a rope and line of control over the Libertas ball as it begins to take shape.  Once the balloon is fully inflated, the control line will help regulate the up and down movement of the balloon — the only "steering" available in the lighter-than-air aircraft.

More than 20 balloons will take to the skies this weekend in the Huff ‘n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally, presented by the Great Plains Balloon Club.

The club expects thousands to attend the free event, with balloons taking off from Mount Hope Cemetery.

“I think that’s the mystery of it all (that gets people excited), how it all works,” club chairman Lori Hutchinson said. “You see these beautiful balloons floating in the air, and it’s kind of a mystery.”

The balloons are due to take off four times this weekend, around 6 p.m. on Friday, 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and 7 a.m. on Sunday. Exact launch times will vary or may even be canceled as pilots must wait until the wind is below 8-10 miles per hour. A representative from the National Weather Service’s Topeka office will help coordinate with the club to ensure a safe balloon ride.

At the controls of the Spirit's Rainbow, Michael Scott searches for a field to land west of Topeka.  Landings can be a bit difficult, as pilots can only control the rate of descent and have no way to slow horizontal motion.

Although the event is free, the club asks participants to contribute to one or both baskets that will be on the ball court. The first will collect children’s toys for Toys for Tots, while the other will collect non-perishable food donations for Harvesters. Holiday food items are specifically requested, but any donations are appreciated.

“We encourage all families to come out,” Hutchinson said. “Things are so expensive these days, and we’re so happy to be able to offer this free event to the public.”

When: The pilots will attempt to take off between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The club will also host balloon glows around 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Where: The balloons will take off from Mount Hope Balloon Field at the corner of SW Huntoon and SW Fairlawn Road. On-site parking is available by entering through the front gates on either road.

Libertas hot air balloon crew members check the plane's upper vent, through which the pilot can control the exhaust of hot air to ascend or descend.

What to bring: BYOC (bring your own chair – or blanket) to sit along the open field and watch the ball launches. The free event will feature food vendors, although attendees can bring their own soft drinks. The club asks participants to leave drones, weapons and pets at home.

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Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at rgarcia@cjonline.com or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.