Sanders: Hot air |

Sanders: Hot air

Once in a while a person comes along who impacts an entire community for the good. Hot Springs, S.D., has one worth telling about and her name is Petra.

She, her husband and children moved to the area three years ago and it was not long before we knew of the fun activity Petra pursues — hot air ballooning. It is a sport that includes early wake ups and a small support group.

To showcase the opportunities, Petra tethered her balloon at Prairie View Methodist Church which is out in the country near Smithwick, S.D., and allowed passengers to take rides up and down. It was the first time I had seen a balloon up close and I thought it was big. Petra assured me hers is a fairly small one.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Petra organized and did the work to put on the Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival. When I say she did the work, I am not exaggerating one bit. There are several reasons for this.

“Due to atmospheric conditions, launches have to be made in the early morning.”

She’s a dynamic person, a Navy veteran and knows ballooning, which very few in this area knew about before she arrived. Since she has been here other locals have bought balloons and are learning to fly with Petra’s coaching. Another gal who used to crew for her husband’s balloon in another state stepped up to assist.

The festival was Saturday and Sunday and will be held annually. Due to atmospheric conditions, launches have to be made in the early morning. Having the festival on Hot Springs airport land, yet away from the runways, gave observers plenty of room to park and get within 100 yards of the balloons as they were inflated with an open flame of burning propane.

By 6:40 a.m. all of the balloons were in the air. This year there were balloons from Hot Springs, Custer, Rapid City and Sioux Falls for a total of eight balloons. Additionally a now-out-of-service balloon was on display as a walk-in balloon.

It was unfurled, laid on its side and kept puffed out by a large electric fan giving visitors the opportunity to walk inside and get a feel for the size and construction. It was a terrific addition to the festival.

Once the balloonists had launched, landed several miles away and were returned to the airport by their crews, the next phase of the day featured two activities for watching or participating: tandem sky diving or taking a ride in a glider, both for a fee.

I watched as a plane towed a glider as they took off together and later landed separately. At least seven gliders are kept at this airport. The airport is fairly busy but much less so than a larger airport.

A SEAT plane for dropping fire retardant was stationed there as well as several other private planes in various hangers.

The community is indebted to Petra for introducing us to ballooning in general and the festival in particular. Our hats are off to her for a job well done.❖