Balloon festival to brighten skies above Urbana

The blue skies of September will be even more colorful when Grimes Field Municipal Airport in Urbana marks the return of Balloon Fest - A Hot Air Affair this weekend.

The fourth-annual balloon launch begins at Historic Grimes Field Airport at 5 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Twelve balloon owners have been invited to participate, said Grimes Airport Manager Elton Cultice, who also notes that for the first time, tethered balloon rides will be available at the festival.

Gates for the family friendly program open at 5 p.m. at the airport, located at 1636 North Main St. north of Urbana. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children. Attendees are invited to bring lawn chair seating and to enjoy enjoy children’s activities such as a bounce house and face painting, music, four food trucks and a variety of other vendors, dedicated beer and wine gardens and eating contests.

The tethered balloon rides are slated to start the evening at 5 pm. The eating contests are scheduled for 7 p.m. each evening and contest participants must register in advance at the event information tent.

Plans call for balloons to launch at 6 p.m. and pilots will look for a “friendly” landing site within five miles of the airport. Area residents who want to invite pilots to land on their property (must be an open field) can place a white sheet on the ground for balloon pilots to use as their landing target. After a brief stop on ground, the balloons will return to the airport to join in an evening “glow” at dusk (at approximately 8 p.m.). The “glow” will close the event with a breathtaking display of balloon light and color.

“The balloons need winds of 8-10 miles per hour or less in order to launch,” Cultice said.

For that reason, the balloon launch and “glow” are dependent upon the weather. If the balloons are unable to launch they will remain on site for a “candlestick glow” and all other events will continue as planned.

The festival is sponsored by the Grimes Field Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rich history of the Grimes Field Municipal Airport, and educating the public about aviation. Additional community sponsors include Bundy Baking Solutions, Urbana Daily Citizen, 106.9 The Bull, 1st Choice Energy Services, Marcos Pizza, Paradiso Restaurant, The Wing Bar, Mary Rutan Hospital, Vancrest of Urbana, Johnson Welded Products, Champaign Dental, KTH Parts Industries, Inc., IH Credit Union, Sellman Insurance Group, Walter & Lewis Funeral Home and Farmers & Merchants Bank.

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