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The student news site of Oak Park High School

Northmen News

The student news site of Oak Park High School

Northmen News

My Experience with the Great Pershing Balloon Derby

Life with Hot Air Balloons
Brynlee Tucker
A hot air balloon competes in evening competition during The 47th Great Pershing Balloon Derby in Brookfield, MO on Saturday Sept. 2. Balloon Piloted by Rick Goosey.

Over Labor Day weekend thousands of people gathered in Brookfield, Missouri, for the 47th annual Great Pershing Balloon Derby. The Great Pershing Balloon Derby is a massive event in Brookfield every year that spans three days, full of events all centered around hot air balloons.
I attend as a crew member every year and have for my entire life. My aunt and uncle own the balloon “TJ’s Toy” which is a blue based balloon with yellow, red, pink, purple and blue diamonds on the sides. Ballon Derby weekend is a weekend packed full of various different events.

On Friday night, hundreds of people gather on Main Street to watch balloons set up and glow in the street. A glow is when the hot air balloon doesn’t lift on the ground but instead doesn’t move and glows in the dark so you can see the pretty colors in the balloon.

My family’s balloon doesn’t usually participate in the Main Street glow and due to family events I was unfortunately unable to arrive in Brookfield while the glow was happening this year.

Saturday is when the real fun begins. I woke up at 5:15 a.m. to arrive in Brookfield at our meeting spot by 6 a.m. My aunt and uncle attend the pilots’ meeting where all of the pilots get their information for their flight while my mom, my aunt, and four of my cousins wait for them in my uncle’s truck. At around 6:15 a.m. the pilots’ meeting concludes and all of the pilots come running towards their trucks. In the mornings, pilots are given tasks they have to complete while flying which basically is just flying over a target and trying to hit the center with a bean bag. Saturday morning flight conditions were perfect so there were three tasks for my uncle Rick to complete.

We all hop in the truck as quickly as possible to find a spot within the allowed areas to set the balloon up. Once we find a spot, we grab the balloon out of its bag and begin setting up, we have to drag the balloon in a bag along the ground to make it completely flat and then put the balloon basket at the base of the balloon so it’s easier to connect when the balloon is full.

We quickly get into our positions. My cousin Jacob, takes the crown line at the top of the balloon, my mom and I take the mouth of the balloon, and my aunt Jenny holds the fan while Kaden, Kaysie and her daughter Georgia look on and watch. Jenny starts the fan while my mom and I hold the mouth of the balloon open so the air from the fan can easily enter the balloon. At the end of the balloon Jacob is holding the crown line and his job is to hold the balloon’s top in the correct position and make sure the airflow in the balloon is even while Rick and his wife Karmen walk around the balloon to make sure it is filling up currently.

The balloon quickly fills with air so Rick hops in the basket of the balloon and starts the burner which puts hot air into the balloon making it float. The balloon very quickly lifts up off the ground and takes Rick in the basket up into the sky. Once Rick is safely in the sky we all put all of our equipment back into the balloon trailer and jump back into the truck so we can follow Rick and catch him when he lands.

We follow Rick around for about 30 minutes while he completes his tasks and quickly drive to attempt to catch him when he lands in a field. Sadly, we didn’t make it and he had to land alone but he did it successfully since he is a professional.

The field he decided to land in was the wettest field ever and after loading the balloon up into the balloon trailer my shoes and pants were drenched. We made our way back into town so we could change and get something to eat before making our way back to Main Street for the parade.

At noon, all pilots, their crews and their balloons all line up on Main Street for a parade led by the fire department. My cousin and I sit in the bed of the truck and throw candy to kids and their families enjoying the parade. The parade lasts about 30 minutes and then we are free to do whatever we want until we need to meet at the balloon field at 6 for the night flight.

I went back to my grandma’s house and took an hour-long nap to make up for waking up at 5 a.m.

At 6 p.m., my mom and I meet up with the rest of my family at the balloon field for the night flight. The balloon field is exactly what you would imagine, a giant field separated in half. Half of it is for the thousands of people that come out to watch the balloon flight and the other half for the pilots and their crews to actually set up their balloons. Night flights are the exact same as morning flights except half of the balloons take off in the field and have to land somewhere else and come back and the other half leaves and takes off somewhere else and then has to land back in the field after completing a task and then staying and doing a glow for the crowd.

On Saturday night. we had to fly out of the field so we all got together and quickly set up the balloon the exact same way we did in the morning and quickly got Rick up and into the sky. Rick took a guest up with him so we also ensured that she safely got into the basket before take off.

After sending them off into the sky, we hopped back into the truck and followed Rick so yet again we could catch him when he landed. Rick was in the sky for what felt like forever, nearly almost an hour and a half because conditions were just too perfect to not take advantage.

Rick landed in the perfect field alone and we went and picked him up.

After doing a photo shoot of little baby Georgia sitting on the balloon, we packed it up and headed back to the field so we could watch the balloons that had to fly into the field glow.

My mom and I ventured over to our friend Angelica’s balloon just to watch and take some photos. She had a small crew of about five people who had no idea what they were doing, unlike me and my mom who have been doing this our entire lives so instead of just hanging out we got right to work. I was assigned the task of handing out balloon cards to kids who come to look at the balloon, basically they are cards that have info about the balloon and the pilot just kind of like a collectors’ item. After we helped Angelica, we headed home for the night to be ready for another early morning.

I woke up bright and early at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning to meet in Brookfield at 6:30 a.m. for the morning flight. Except this morning when we arrived we got the sad news from my cousin the flight had been canceled for the morning due to poor weather conditions. Not long after receiving word of the cancellation, my mom and I went back to my grandma’s and went back to sleep.

After my rejuvenating two-hour nap I got up and spent some time with my mom’s side of the family for a few hours playing games and catching up about all things in our lives. At 5 o’clock, we headed out to the balloon field for another flight.

On Sunday night my family had to fly into the balloon field to glow so once we got information for the flight, we piled into the truck to find a nice spot to launch the balloon from. Once we found a spot we did our respective jobs and got the balloon up and out in 15 minutes. It was a super short flight since all Rick had to do was throw a bean bag on a target in the field and then land but due to winds being stronger than expected Rick missed the field and he ended up having to land in a field about a mile from the main balloon field.

Rick landed and we went to pick him up and put the balloon back in its bag and headed back to the field. When we arrived at the balloon field, we immediately had to put the balloon back up for the glow.

After setting the balloon up we tied it to the balloon trailer and used all of our body weight to hold the balloon to the ground. Once it got dark enough, the crowd was released to wander around and look at balloons and collect balloon cards. Kaden was our holder of the balloon cards while I helped to keep the balloon on the ground. After being set up for about 30 minutes most of the balloons closed up shop and everyone, including us, laid their balloons down and loaded them into their truck beds and balloon trailers and headed home for the night.

My mom and I said our goodbyes and loaded up in the car and headed back to Kansas City to have a day to recoup.

There is a flight on Monday morning every year, but my mom and I never stay so that we have time to do anything we need to at home. This year, my mom and I seemed to have made the best decision because we woke up Monday morning from a text from my aunt Jenny that the Monday morning flight was canceled so I didn’t even have to miss a flight.

Overall, the Great Pershing Balloon Derby is a huge part of my life and I love being able to go and spend time with my family doing such a unique activity that most people never get to experience in their lifetime. If you ever get a chance to help set up a hot air balloon or ride in one I absolutely say do it, it’s super fun and even if you are scared of heights it’s perfectly safe and the views are once in a lifetime.

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About the Contributor
Brynlee Tucker
Brynlee Tucker, social media editor, photographer
Hey! I’m Brynlee, I’m 17 and I’m a senior (class of 2024). I love journalism and it’s the only classes I'm taking at Oak Park this year, I also take sociology, marketing and criminal justice at MCC part time! I’ve loved journalism since I was in seventh grade and started helping with the school yearbook. I love football; I have Chiefs season tickets and attend every home game possible!! I spend 99% of my free time with my boyfriend doing endless activities such as shopping and going to the zoo! I hope to become a photojournalist for the Kansas City Chiefs in the future!

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    Glennis FullerSep 26, 2023 at 9:46 pm

    Great article, pretty much spot on for the Great Pershing balloons derby! Great family fun!