Bealeton Balloon Fest, Part 2

By Roger (28 August 2016)

As you read in our last blog, Mark and I stopped by the Bealeton Flying Circus, for their balloon festival. I've always loved these events. I have photographed several balloon fests, in the past, so I had high hopes, based on my previous experiences.

My first balloon fest was in Augsburg, Germany, back in 1981. The balloons there were the old style balloons, with helium, instead of hot air. The balloons were encompassed in nets which were staked down as the balloon was filled with gas. You can see the nets weighed down in the first photo. Just prior to liftoff, the pilot attached the net to toggles in the cockpit; sandbags and tether lines were released; and the balloon took off. These photos are both shot with a 50mm lens, on my trusty Canon F-1. As you can see in the second photo, we could get right next to the balloons.

Balloon Fest, in Augsburg, Germany

Balloon Fest, in Augsburg, Germany

The pilot securing net toggles

The pilot securing net toggles

I shot several of these events over my two assignments to Germany. In more recent years, I've continued to get in close to the crews during their preparations. The draw now is the flames from the burners. They put out some really cool flames. Again, I have used normal or shorter telephoto lenses.

Get in close to catch the burner flame (Wisconsin Rapids)

Get in close to catch the burner flame (Wisconsin Rapids)

I mention the lenses because, as Mark said in his blog, I made some assumptions for the Flying Circus event and wasn't as prepared as I could have been. In short, I didn't bring a long telephoto lens. It turned out this balloon fest was different than the others I've attended. Since the airfield was active, with several bi-planes landing and taking off, we were not able to get close to the balloons while they were being prepped. My longest lens was a 70-200mm; not long enough to get close in photos. I was disappointed, but I was there, so I had to photograph something before I went home.

At first, I made the same photographs as Mark. We both shot the two plane formation. with the moon in the background. And both saw the planes flying behind the yellow balloon and knew the compression, from the telephoto, would make it appear as if they were flying in close formation.

Flying with the moon

Flying with the moon

Almost the same shot Mark took

Almost the same shot Mark took

I was a little disappointed and ready to leave when I realized it was time to adapt to the situation and change my plan of action. Since the pilots were offering rides, for a small fee, I decided to get a different perspective on the balloons. The slow speed and open cockpits of the bi-planes make them a great platform for aerial photography. I talked to the pilot, and he agreed to help me out by flying around the balloons. It made my day a success.

After climbing over the wing and into the front cockpit, I settled down for the ride. The pilot asked me to keep my hands off the controls; that was a pretty easy request to honor since it's pretty sparse in the Stearman cockpit.

Stearman cockpit RD42815

The ride was spectacular. I've been up in many types of aircraft, including an interesting trip in a doors-open military helicopter flying at high speed and nap of the earth, but this ride was pure enjoyment.

The pilot went right to work for me. Many of the balloons were beginning to land, and he knew where they would probably touch down. He flew over a vineyard, with a balloon down by the pond, and put the plane into a shallow bank to give me a shot without the wings in the viewfinder. I had switched to my 24-120mm zoom, and that was the perfect lens for the job, and I didn't have to worry about vibration from the wind buffeting the longer (and heavier) 70-200mm.

Convenient - landing the balloon next to a vineyard

Convenient - landing the balloon next to a vineyard

He took me by balloons flying over trees, in hay fields, and by farms. We saw six different balloons and were on our way back when we saw one last balloon. It was still flying and just getting ready to cross over a pond. I was getting ready to point it out when he told me to make this one good because it was time to return to the airfield. I made my favorite photo of the day from the two circles he made.

I wish there was a reflection, but it is still my favorite.

I wish there was a reflection, but it is still my favorite.

On the way back, we passed over the airfield, so I could get a shot of the small hanger, at the end of the grass airstrip. The trip was worth every penny it cost (hint: it was less than $100). I had not intended to spend the money for the ride, but I was really glad I did. It made the day for me and provided a completely different perspective from the other balloon fest photos I have.

Airstrip RD42960

Don't forget the Worldwide Photowalk is coming on 1 October. Although there is no cost, you must register to participate in all the fun. You can find our walk, in Shepherdstown, WV, here. If you'd like to check other locations, you can find them here. Come join us for a fun time.

Bealeton Balloon Festival -Ground View

By Mark

One of my favorite local events is the annual hot air balloon festival at the Bealeton Flying Circus.  I convinced Roger to get up before dawn and head down there.  Now to be fair, I told him not to bother showing up before 6:30 as they wouldn’t start launching until later.  He of course got there much earlier thinking they would have the balloons all fired up and ready to go.  Not so much. 

It was a really calm morning and the biplanes were out on dawn patrol, keeping company with the moon.

Unlike last year, they didn’t let us get up close to the takeoff points where they filled up the balloons.  We had to stay behind the fences and watch as the ground crews delivered the gondolas and envelopes to the field.

One of the things I enjoy most is the bright vibrant colors.  

Soon enough the first balloons were off with suitable escorts.  

They walked the purple one over by the fence to better load the paying passengers for their rides.

This year they had some experimental balloons as well, including this one from a local dentist.  It doesn’t have a basket, just a reinforced lawn chair.   

He just flew it the length of the field then, landed and collapsed it.  That was interesting to watch as well.

Other balloonists had taken off from the airport trying to make it to the airfield to land.  Unfortunately, the winds didn’t cooperate, so they landed in the fields and farms surrounding the area.

One of features of the flying circus is the opportunity to go flying in the open cockpit Stearmans.  Roger decided it was time and he will be posting his shots from the air, which are, I hate to say, very cool shots.  

Getting in to the plane requires a lot of grace and skill and the patient assistance of the ground crew.  

Taxiing, takeoff, a very low pass across the field, and then the careful return to earth.  

.  It looked like a blast and you will enjoy the photos from the plane.  

Up, Up and Away

By Mark

We live fairly close to the Bealeton Flying Circus, and I often see their biplanes flying over my house.  In the 13 years I’ve been here, I’d never made it down there.  This weekend they had a hot air balloon regatta, so Sarah and I headed down to see the show.  One of the items on my photographic bucket list is to visit the annual Albuquerque balloon festival in New Mexico.  That festival has hundreds of balloons and tens of thousands of spectators.  The one in Bealeton was a bit more modest. 

The aeronauts were scheduled to take off starting at 5 PM, so we got down there about 4:30.  The airshow folks were still giving biplane rides, including aerobatic ones for the brave of heart. 

There is still something magical about watching these canvas, wood and wire open cockpit machines take to the sky.   

.   I plan to go back and take one of the rides here soon. 

When the wind finally died down a little bit, the vans and trucks with the baskets and the balloons started to unfold across the property.  

In the nice light of the late afternoon each balloon showed off their unique and colorful patterns.  The giant bass pro balloon had quite a bit of 3D detail.  Seeing the biplane buzz it was pretty interesting.  Frank Luke-anyone?

The kiddie train made a nice contrast as the balloons were inflating.

Each balloon represents a significant investment in time and money.  Seeing the crew working inside the envelope reminds you of just how big they really are. 

Filling them up with hot air is like throwing money in a hole. It takes quite a few people to hold the balloon down on the ground—they really want to go flying.  Of course people got to pay for a ride.  We were quite content watching from the ground.

My favorite was the really brightly colored striped pattern.  It was a good photographic subject.   

At the end of the day we watched them float off into the sunset.   I am glad Sarah saw the little blurb in the paper for this local treasure.