Balloons raise spirits but not balloonists

May 10, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Early morning fog and a low ceiling of gray clouds that obscured Television Hill's broadcasting towers deflated hot air balloon pilots' plans yesterday, forcing the second cancellation of the annual Preakness Week hot air balloon race.

The colorful balloons, though, boosted spirits and hopes for a final try today.

If the skies clear, the race will be on at 7 a.m. in Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County. But race officials were pessimistic that today's forecast for mostly cloudy skies and 20 percent chance of rain would allow a launch.

"Oh, I want to fly. I want to fly bad," said balloon pilot Randy Danneman, who traveled to Druid Hill Park from Germantown to compete for the $5,000 purse sponsored by First National Bank. "But balloonists are conservative and safety-conscious."

Mr. Danneman was among 33 pilots registered for the race who were told at a 5:30 a.m. briefing yesterday that weather conditions prohibited takeoff.

The race was canceled about 8 a.m., but the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses pilots, said they could fly at their own discretion.

Troy Bradley, in the Breyer's Ice Cream balloon, was the only pilot to take off. Dan Sherrill, the race coordinator, said at noon that Mr. Bradley had checked in a little earlier "just to say he had a nice flight."

Back at the park, the weather cleared about 8:30 a.m., but that was too late, Mr. Danneman said, because the best flying conditions for hot air balloons are 1 to 1 1/2 hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset.

"We're dependent on the weather and the wind. You don't know what your destination is until you get there," said Mr. Danneman, who started his own company, Fantasy Flights, about two years ago, after pursuing the sport as a hobby for eight years.

"It's not the destination, but the flight itself," he said. "It's almost dead silent except for the sound of the [propane] burners, and there's hardly any sensation of movement because you're floating with the wind, the way a soap bubble floats on the air."

About 2,500 people turned out to see the balloons, cheering as eight pilots inflated and tethered balloons in all shapes and sizes -- from the traditional oval to a giant polar bear.

Jacqueline Wiley, 81, of Boca Raton, Fla., timed her visit to Westminster to see her daughter, Patricia Smith, to coincide with the balloon race and the blooming of the lilacs.

"Usually, I'm too late for the lilacs, but I did get to see them this year," she said. "I'm a little disappointed about the race, but I'm kind of glad the sun's not out, and we're not all hot and sweaty. Besides, it's all so beautiful, and this is different."

Two-year-old Daniel McGuire of Dundalk gets so excited about hot air ballons, his mother and grandfather got up at 5:30 a.m. two days in a row -- only to see the races canceled.

"We'll do it again tomorrow [Sunday], too, maybe it will be better," said Ed Lange, Daniel's grandfather.

Roman Clark, a 10-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident, in keeping with the contagious optimism, said, "It looks neat just to see them inflated."

Mr. Danneman and his flight crew -- Dorinda Newquist, Beth Fertig, Chris Conley and Yaz Adam -- tried to make the best of the situation by talking about the next day's flight, and performed the ritual champagne toast.

"My bubble is burst. It's too wet," said Mr. Danneman, as he clinked glasses. "But we're going to inflate tonight, and we might get a flight in tomorrow."

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