For years the Valley has not seen a festival dedicated to hot air balloons, but that will change this weekend as they return for the Inaugural Arizona Balloon Classic at Wild Horse Pass on the Gila River Indian Community.
Fifty balloons and their pilots are expected to attend Nov. 18-20.
The event will include food and shopping, as well as balloon competitions, parachute jumpers, and viewings. Gates open Friday and Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday 5:30 a.m. to noon.
Ron Aros, the balloonmiester for the event, said he reluctantly got involved with balloons, but after his first ride he was excited to go again.
"I got involved 27 years ago," Aros said. "I was contacted by a pilot and I wasn't really interested, but I knew my wife and kids were interested so I said, ‘OK, let's go out.' We helped him put the balloon together, I hopped in, somewhat hesitantly because I'm afraid of heights and I get motion sickness. When we came in for landing we were talking to the crew and we were 15 to 20 feet off the ground and they were down below ready to catch the gondola as we were coming in for landing. A gust of wind came in and blew us across the field so the pilot let all the air out of the balloon and we drug across the field until we came to a stop. I just turned to the pilot and said, ‘Can we do this again?'"
Aros has become a pilot himself. He was a balloonmiester for a balloon rally in Lake Havasu, Ariz., and one in Douglas, Ariz.
When he got a call to do a rally in Phoenix he was excited for the chance. Aros says events like this takes years to plan, and this particular festival has more than 300 volunteers.
"I'd like to see ballooning get going again with annual rallies," Aros said. "I know people want to see this. I'm constantly being asked when the next rally is. It's great for the community and the entire family."
Aros suggests arriving early, getting some food and finding a seat to watch the day's events.
Each morning at sunrise the balloons will be lit up and a "dawn patrol" of six balloons will fly into the early-morning sky. There will be a Hare and Hound competition among balloons once the sun is up.
One balloon will be the hare and the rest will be the hounds. The hare will fly away first and the hounds will follow. At some point the hare drops a large "X" on the ground and the hounds will drop baggies down trying to land closest to the X.
Later in the morning some sky diving will take place, and throughout the day visitors will have a chance to walk directly up to the balloons and talk with the pilots.
At sunset the balloons will remain on the ground and light up like giant light bulbs for the "Desert Glow."
Aros does warn of two constraints for visitors. No smoking will be allowed on the field and no pets are allowed except for service animals.
Tickets cost $7 ahead of time or $10 at the gate, and can be purchased at azballoonclassic.com.
"Bring your whole family, bring your cameras, just bundle up and come on out," Aros said. "You can come out and stay all day from before sunrise to after sunset. It's all out there for you. Just come out and plan on having a good time."
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