Many people look forward to a hot air balloon ride as a novelty—a fun adventure they won’t soon forget. Lots of them will have the opportunity to watch these balloons float gracefully overhead or take a ride in one at the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston from August 18 – 20, 2017.
Overview of the Festival
Organizers expect more than 100,000 visitors to enjoy free admission to the weekend celebration, which takes place primarily at Simard-Payne Memorial Park. Additional entertainment and food are available at Auburn’s Festival Plaza. Some activities have a fee. The festival encourages visitors to frequent the Lewiston/Auburn area and provides fundraising opportunities for local non-profits.
What to See and Do
You’ll see balloons and more balloons from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, provided the weather cooperates. Dozens of them will float above the Androscoggin River as well as the rocky Great Falls. If you feel the itch for a ride, book a flight.
There are a lot of other things to do as well:
- You can enjoy everything from taco salads to fried dough at dozens of food concessions.
- Pancake breakfasts are on the schedule after the morning balloon launches.
- Trade and crafts booths will parallel the river.
- Planners have scheduled entertainment ranging from kids’ shows to blues singers and other types of music.
- No festival would be complete without carnival rides, a parade, and a lot of contests and demonstrations.
- Free face painting is on deck for Sunday visitors, along with balloon twisting and other activities.
How Hot Air Balloons Work
The basic principle behind how a hot air balloon works involves air temperature. Hot air weighs less than cool air and has less mass. Therefore, it rises when in cooler air. Propelling hot air upward keeps a balloon aloft and rising.
Each balloon has three main components:
- The envelope is the actual balloon, made of fabric, and holds air.
- The burner is the device that propels heat upward within the envelope.
- The basket is the space for the pilot and the passengers.
Propane gas heats the air. That seems simple enough, so what’s the catch?
The pilot has to judge when to fire the burner periodically to keep balloon stable. This requires opening a propane valve to move upward. The greater the flame, the faster vehicle will ascend.
Pulling on a cord opens a parachute valve, lets hot air out, and lowers the inner air temperature so that the balloon descends. Moving in a particular direction means managing to get to the right height, then literally just blowing in the wind.
Wondering About Safety?
In the wake of the July 2016 air balloon crash in Texas, many people may be wondering just how safe they are. But you can be assured that deaths linked to these balloons are very rare. Out of 760 accidents that occurred between 1964 and 2013, only 67 had fatalities.
Hot air balloons are aircraft regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots and balloons must be certified. The agency conducts periodic inspections on commercial-use balloons. When accidents occur, they’re usually due to unusual factors involving wind, weather, and power lines.
Officials of the Lewiston festival have confirmed that they invite only pilots who have passed annual in-flight exams to keep commercial pilot licenses current. Testing a balloon’s fuel system is part of a required annual safety inspection. In addition, the Maine State Fire Marshal’s office indicates that it has worked with local safety personnel to make sure that individuals use proper procedures when filling balloons’ propane tanks.
Hot Air Balloons in Popular Culture
The public has been fascinated with hot air ballooning since it made its first appearance in Paris in 1783. Just 10 years later, George Washington watched the first North American launch of such a balloon. Fast forward two centuries to 1978, when the first balloon crossed the Atlantic. The first around-the-world flight occurred 21 years later.
Hollywood often mirrors popular fascination or curiosity. Here are 10 flicks in which hot air balloons appeared:
- Rat Race
- Mysterious Island
- Night Crossing
- The Mummy 2
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Enduring Love
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band
- The Wizard of Oz
We hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable time at the Great Falls Hot Air Balloon festival!