Mount Airy to be full of hot air

August 12, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

In October 1990, Mike and Rose Kelly had a beautiful wedding on the grounds of the Mount Airy Firemen's Activity Hall. If only the wind had cooperated.

The Kellys had hoped to take a post-nuptial flight in their hot air balloon, but the winds were too strong.

Hoping for better flight conditions, the Kellys will return to the Firemen's Activity Grounds at 6 p.m. Aug. 24 for the first Mount Airy Balloon Race.

The Unionville couple are organizing the event as part of Mount Airy's yearlong centennial celebration.

Mrs. Kelly hopes to have seven balloons in the event, known as a "hare and hound" race.

In this type of race, the "hare," or lead balloon, begins the race with a headstart over the other balloons, or "hounds."

With the hounds following, the lead balloon charts the race route. The hare then lands in a large field and marks a target "X," usually with pieces of white linen, Mrs. Kelly said.

Those in the "hound" balloons, which are carrying beanbags, try to hit the center of the X with the beanbag. The one closest to the target wins the race.

Afterward, the balloonists and their crews will pack up their balloons and return to the Firemen's Activity Grounds for a winners presentation.

If the winds are too strong for flying, the Kellys plan to substitute a balloon "glow."

Balloonists in a "glow" inflate their balloons but stay on the ground. They ignite the hot air burners and the balloons "light up like lanterns," Mrs. Kelly said.

"It's really nice to see when you have six or seven balloons lit up," she said.

Mrs. Kelly, 42, became interested in balloons about 10 years ago when she spotted a hot air advertising balloon at a shopping center.

She told the balloon owner she didn't have the money to pay for a ride but offered to help the owner with balloon maintenance to "earn a ride."

It didn't take long before Mrs. Kelly became hooked.

"I can't think of a better way to fly," she said. "It's really hard to describe what it's like to be sliding over the tops of trees and fields.

"It just makes you forget everything else."

Three years ago Mrs. Kelly, a secretary at Baxter Healthcare in Columbia, earned her private balloon pilot's license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Her husband, Mike, who works for ATI in Beltsville, is working to get his license.

The Kellys didn't meet through ballooning, but Mrs. Kelly said it played a part in their courtship.

"I invited him and his kids to go flying, and that's kind of when it started," Mrs. Kelly said.

The Kellys bought their own balloon for their wedding in October 1990. Friends set it up in the Mount Airy field, and it figures prominently in the Kellys' wedding pictures.

Since Mrs. Kelly is the pilot in the family, Mr. Kelly handles the crew duties. This entails helping with the inflation of the balloon and "chasing" or following the balloon in flight.

"It can get a little tricky at times," said Mr. Kelly, 47. "I've been through streams, woods, hill and dale."

Through radio communication, the crew member can alert the pilot to landing locations and obstacles in flight, such as power lines.

Mr. Kelly said some of his wife's more interesting landings were in ball fields, particularly when she interrupted games in progress.

The Kellys usually fly 30 to 40 hours a year, although they'd like to spend more time in the air.

They ascend from a field in Mount Airy off Gillis Falls Road. Balloon flights generally don't cover great distances. The Kellys fly to Westminster, Taneytown and occasionally head toward Baltimore.

Twice, the Kellys have traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., to attend the Kodak International Balloon Fiesta. Mrs. Kelly said the event, which features about 700 balloons, is one of the largest.

"We base our vacations around the balloon," Mr. Kelly said.

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