Traverse City Record-Eagle


June 30, 2013

Pilot gets fired up for balloon festival

HOWELL (AP) — Landing a 62-foot hot-air balloon at a gas station off M-59?

Denny McGuire has been there, done that.

The Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport instructor has taken an estimated 300 hot-air balloon flights in his 10 years as a balloon pilot, with a 30-year background as a flight teacher.

“Once the wheels take off the ground, it doesn’t matter what it costs,” he told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

“Maybe it’s the freedom, maybe it’s the control, or maybe it’s the challenge.”

The Oceola Township resident is one of 40 balloon pilots crossing their fingers for ideal flight conditions Friday through Sunday during the 29th annual Michigan Challenge Balloonfest. Those conditions would entail winds less than 10 knots, no thunderstorms within 100 miles of the event and a 3,000- to 4,000-foot ceiling, according to McGuire.

A chance of rain could hinder any launches, however. The rain could continue into the weekend, according a National Weather Service forecast.

Even if weather takes a turn for the better and pilots are taking off “left and right,” McGuire said he won’t take off unless he’s comfortable with the safety conditions, something he also emphasizes with students.

“A lot of people think it looks like a toy,” he said.

It’s not like a pilot can just go out to a hardware store and fix up his or her balloon using any old parts. Pilots are limited to the type of parts that can be used in their balloons by the Federal Aviation Administration, and aircraft have to be inspected every 100 hours or once per year to comply with FAA standards.

The Balloonfest attracts some of the best pilots in the world, some traveling from Missouri and Tennessee. Pilots compete not based on speed, but how well they can use wind currents and altitude to steer their balloons to specific targets.

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