25th Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic – Dawn Patrol

When I got up last Saturday morning, I didn’t had any special plans. I checked the news and looked through my Facebook feed to see what my friends were up to. One post from Jin caught my attention: images of hot air balloons from a festival in Sonoma. Wow! So cool! As some of you might remember, two years ago I shot images of balloons at a lake in the Sierra. I googled around and soon enough discovered that the 25th Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic was going on this weekend. A few hours later, I had my ticket for the show in my hand and a hotel room booked. Although it is only 60 miles from San Francisco, I wanted to be there for dawn patrol which was scheduled to start at 5 am. Getting up at 3am to drive up there wasn’t really my thing. That’s why I got a room up there for the night.

When I got up Sunday morning, there was an unpleasant surprise: a thick layer of fog was hovering over town. I was about 15 minutes away from the site of the festival. So I was hopeful that it would be better over there. Well, it wasn’t ….

But everyone was also hopeful and the crews started to set up the balloons. After the envelope (balloon) was laid out, it was filled with an inflator fan.

Filling the envelope with an inflator fan
Filling the envelope with an inflator fan

Once the envelope is sufficiently filled, they can use the burner to do the heavy lifting. From here it goes very fast until the balloon is upright.

Heating the air with the burner
Heating the air with the burner

The reason to get up so early is the visual effect these balloons have at dawn. The pilots use a different fuel mixture for the burner that results in a warmer and brighter color. In the next image you see the difference in having a balloon lit versus not lit.

Hot Air Balloon light show at dawn
Hot Air Balloon light show at dawn

And it is really beautiful when all balloons are lit at the same time. The names of the balloons are (from left to right): Free Spirit, Kiphaven, Sonoma Star and Magic Moments IV.

All four balloon lit at once
All four balloon lit at once

 

Dawn patrol, backstage
Dawn patrol, backstage

 

Sonoma Star at dawn
Sonoma Star at dawn

 

Free Spirit's parachute vent smiley
Free Spirit’s parachute vent smiley

Two paying spectators were waiting in the basket and had fun playing with the burner while waiting for take-off. But due to low-hanging clouds and limited visibility, all four balloons from the dawn patrol stayed on the ground.

Guests ready to take off
Guests are ready to take off

 

In my next post I will show images of the specialty hot air balloons they showed once the dawn patrol left. Stay tuned…






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