By Daryl Murphy
More than 60 hot air balloons filled the clear Texas skies late in June, for the first DFW Summer Balloon Classic. The event was held 30 miles south of Dallas, at Mid-Way Regional Airport, located between Waxahachie and Midlothian. The Commemorative Air Force also participated, along with classic civil aircraft, skydivers, gliders and helicopters. In addition, NASA introduced a new interactive exhibit, in celebration of the 50th year of its space program.
Debby Standefer, the organizing force behind the event, had previously staged events in Denver and at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Standefer has been a licensed balloon pilot for 28 years, and her husband Wayne pilots one of the RE/MAX balloons.
“We wanted a fun event for pilots and one that would draw people from the DFW Metroplex to Waxahachie,” she explained. “The south and west corridor of the Metroplex has long been in need of a sky full of balloons, and this is the nearest location to the wide open spaces.”
Pat Cannon served as “balloonmeister” and competition director for the classic, coordinating all flying activities at the meet. A 17,000-hour, fixed wing, rotorcraft and balloon pilot, Cannon is vice president and test pilot—corporate jet and turboprops—at Turbine Aircraft Services at Addison Airport in suburban Dallas and a two-time U.S. national balloon champion.
Balloons split into two groups for early morning events; half the field made a mass ascent, while the other half participated in a competitive event that sent them away from the airport in various directions, with the task of finding favorable winds to bring them back. The balloons then drift over a target and drops bean bags as close to the target as possible. In the afternoon, the two groups changed the activities, with half flying the competitive event, while the others inflate on the field at twilight, to become a spectacular display of lighted orbs.
Principal sponsor RE/MAX of Texas sent three of its famous trademark balloons to the event. The Denver-based realty company sponsors six balloons in Texas and a total fleet of more than 100 balloons in 70 countries around the world.
Other sponsors included Curves, Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce, 103.7 FM, Joe’s Crab Shack, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, GEICO and Nelson-Putnam Propane.
Although RE/MAX may be the most familiar trademark flying, the Energizer Bunny Hot Hare stole the show. At a height of 166 feet and displacing 180,000 cubic feet, it is the largest hot air balloon in the country.
While most balloonists transport their balloons in pickup beds or in the back of vans, Hot Hare requires a dual-axle trailer. The 1,170-pound behemoth utilizes a minimum crew of 20 volunteers, to unpack and spread the balloon over several thousand square feet of grass.
Hot Hare’s double propane burners can produce 30 million BTUs per hour, which prompted one wag to comment, “That’s about the output from one presidential candidate, isn’t it?”
Glo Kehoe has been the bunny’s full-time pilot for the past seven years. Kehoe is one of only six women in the U.S. whose career is as a full-time, professional, corporate hot air balloon pilot. She has total time of more than 2,000 hours and has flown balloons up to 240,000 cubic feet in size.
Joe Heartsill won the Balloon Federation of America-sanctioned Summer Balloon Classic competition and a $1,000 prize. Heartsill, a San Angelo businessman, was the 1995 world champion, a three-time national champion and holds four world grand prix championships.
The DFW Summer Balloon Classic’s first outing was a success. Standefer estimated the total attendance at 20,000. Texas weather cooperated, with blue skies and the puffy clouds that photographers love. Standefer is already planning the classic for next summer.