COLUMBUS - Time is moving quickly and the 29th Hot Air Balloon Regatta, to be held Oct. 5-7, will be here before you know it. Weather permitting; the skies over Columbus and Cherokee County will be filled with colorful hot air balloons.

Technically, each balloonist is in competition with the other, but as they gather in Columbus everyone knows everyone else and the spirit is almost like that of a family reunion. Several of the 12 balloonists have made most of the twenty nine years for the Columbus regatta, coming come from Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.

Friday evening begins with a balloon glow at dark in the industrial park on highway 69 and Merle Evans Drive. The balloons tether and inflate for about 30 minutes. In the early twilight hours, the fireballs from the propane burners make the inflated balloons appear to glow and dance. This is a beautiful sight and something spectators won’t want to miss. Don’t ever leave the field, until you see the pilots leave. Winds are very unpredictable, they may be high one minute, you wait a few minutes and the winds will change, so pilots and crew will take to the field. This can be the case not only for Friday evening, but Saturday and Sunday also.

On Saturday, the regatta continues with the first race departing from the industrial park around 7:15 a.m., it could be a little earlier – REMEMBER we cannot control the winds or the weather. The race, which will last around two hours and fly over parts of Columbus, Cherokee County and maybe into Oklahoma or Missouri, depending on the wind currents. This race will be a hare and hound race. A lead balloonist (hare) departs 15 minutes before the hounds (other balloons). The hounds hope to keep up with the hare who will eventually place a large X marker on the ground. The pilots will try to drop their numbered designated throw as close to the X as possible without the basket touching the ground.

This type of race will be repeated again on Saturday evening around 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday morning at sunrise. Pilots have to be on the ground and hour and a half before sunset, per FAA regulations.

If the winds are at a touchy point, we will not do the hare and hound race, and leave it to the pilot discretion as to if they want to fly. The committee does not want an accident during our balloon rally. This is why sometimes we may have only a few that will try it. The pilots know how their balloons handle and we are all about safety.

Because they often use farmers’ fields for landing, balloonist do what they can to stay on good terms with area farmers wherever they go. Pilots try to avoid landing in active crop fields or spooking livestock as much as possible. Each pilot is provided with a map of the area and is advised of “hot spots” during a pilot briefing before each flight.

“The Regatta committee wants to say THANK YOU in advance to all area landowners who let the balloonist land in their fields and pastures”, Janet Lindsey, Chairman of the Columbus Day Committee said. “Without their cooperation we would not be able to hold this regatta. To show our appreciation to landowners, the pilot enters the name of the landowner of whose property they land into a drawing and the winner receives a Columbus Gift Certificate.”

“We encourage the public to come out early before the flights and view the balloons up close on the field and watch lift-off,” Lindsey continued. “We would also like to ask for the public cooperation upon leaving the field after liftoff to please wait until all chase vehicles have departed the field. Chase vehicles are the ones carrying the crews that help the balloonist. It is a must that the chase vehicles be the first ones out as this is the only contact the balloon pilot has with his crew and they must stay in contact and in sight. The public is invited to follow chase of the balloons if they like, but we do ask that you stay out of the way of the crew and pilot.”

There is a parking fee of $5 for a parking pass per car that will cover all four balloon events and doesn’t matter how many person are in the vehicle. There is no admission fee, just a parking fee. Funding from this is used to cover liability insurance.

For a complete schedule check out our web site at www.columbusdayballoons.com or pick up a schedule at one of our businesses or Chamber Office.