The history of hot air ballooning in Statesville began in 1965, when Ed Yost with Raven Industries partnered with the US Air Force and began the production of hot air balloons according to standardized designs. Four years later, Tracy Barnes and Bill Meadows made the first hot air balloon flight from Statesville.
In 1974, Bill Meadows founded the National Balloon Rally. Most of the flights were made from Meadows’s flight training and promotion company Balloon Ascensions. Over the years, the rally has considerably expanded and transformed into the Carolina BallonFest. It is the second longest-running hot air balloon festival in the United States after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Statesville’s Carolina BalloonFest is a three-day festival that takes place on the third full weekend of October. It is filled with various events and activities. Hot air balloon flights are the festival’s main attraction. They launch twice a day, early morning and late afternoon. Balloon pilots participate in balloon races and competitions to test their skill. Festival visitors can book a hot air balloon ride or, if they don’t have much money or are afraid of heights, rise in a tethered hot air balloon for about 5 minutes while anchored to the ground.
Along with competitions and rides, the festival’s program includes mass ascensions, displays of uniquely shaped balloons, the kids zone, live entertainment, the artisan village, the Saturday Evening Balloon Glow, pilot meet & greets, and other fun activities. Every year, musicians from all over the country come to perform at the festival. At the artisan village and marketplace, visitors can buy unique gifts and festival merchandise. There’s also a wine and craft beer tasting garden.
It is important to know that all balloon activities including static display, tethered rides and balloon flights are weather dependent, so they might be rescheduled at the last moment due to unsuitable weather.
Photo by Greg Duckworth II