Giant, colorful balloons will soon fill the skies of East Texas as the 35th annual Great Texas Balloon Race takes off on Tuesday.
“Among balloon pilots it has the best reputation of any competitive event in the country,” Gai Bennett, with the Great Texas Balloon Race said. “It’s one of the biggest events in East Texas.”
For the first time this year, Longview and the Great Texas Balloon Race will host the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship where 50 nationally ranked pilots will be competing for the title, Ms. Bennett said.
The winner of the U.S. National Championships and the runner-up will qualify to compete in this year’s World Championship for Hot Air Balloons in Brazil, she said.
U.S. Naionals competitive flights will begin Tuesday morning and run through Sunday.
All flights will be viewable around the Longview area, as well as portions of Gregg County. Launching locations for the balloons are decided by pilots and won’t be released, Ms. Bennett said. However, officials will post the balloons’ target locations each morning on the balloon race’s website.
“It’s kind of fun to be at the target area,” Ms. Bennett said. “Sometimes some of those guys get so close you can almost touch them.”
Beginning Friday, the balloon races for the U.S. Nationals will run concurrently with the races for the Great Texas Balloon Race.
Festival events include the traditional balloon glows each night as well as a concert from J.B. and the Moonshine Band at 9:30 p.m. Friday night and a concert from Ronny Milsap at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night.
“Our most popular events are probably the concerts and the balloon glow,” Ms. Bennett said. “All 70 of the balloons are lined up in the infield and people are able to walk through and look at them. Then, right after sundown, they will illuminate the envelope of each of the balloons. It’s just gorgeous.”
Children will have the opportunity to enjoy the festival’s Kid’s Land for $5 each day. The area features a bounce house, a giant slide and more, according to the website.
“Just like any other festival we have fabulous food vendors, fabulous arts and craft vendors and skydivers,” Ms. Bennett said. “We have a vintage aircraft display featuring planes from WWII and Vietnam. Some will even be selling individual rides.”
Ms. Bennett said the event is fun for all ages.
“It’s really for the whole family,” she said. “Everyone will get a kick out of it. We put on a good show.”
Advance tickets for the festival are $12 for each day and can be found at local Brookshire’s and Super 1 Foods. Tickets are $15 at the gate each day. Children 12 and under get in free.
For more information about the Great Texas Balloon Race visit: www.gtbr.net.