The early morning air was crisp and cool when hundreds of Lodians gathered at Hutchins Street Square on Monday morning. There was dance music and food vendors, but the crowd had gathered for a special reason: To watch the huge Remax hot air balloon take flight.
Babies and toddlers were bundled in strollers while moms and dads donned their sweatshirts against the chill. They lined up around the large sheet protecting the balloon from the damp grass with coffee and cell phones in hand, ready to snap photos.
Pilot Dave Wakefield and a team of helpers began inflating the massive balloon just after 7 a.m.
The large basket was laid out on its side with the balloon secured to the top. Two people held the opening of the balloon open so a massive fan could blow air inside, filling it up to reach nearly 100 feet tall. Even with the powerful fan, it took nearly 20 minutes to inflate the nylon balloon. Once the balloon had mostly filled, Wakefield began lighting the burners in short bursts. That heat warmed up the cold air inside the balloon to give it lift. The balloon slowly rose over the basket until it reached its full height. Wakefield climbed in the basket with a young Marine who finished boot camp last week.
Two young girls watched with eyes wide as the fully inflated and heated balloon took flight, rising above the tall trees of the park and off toward the east.
“It was so big! It was cool,” said 10-year-old Celia de Cristofaro.
Her friend Moriah Schmierer, 10, was fascinated with the way the balloon gently left the ground.
“My favorite part was watching it go up high,” said Schmierer.
Todd Schmierer remembered attending Field and Fair day when he was a child.
“I used to come here were it was tons of balloons going up, way back when,” he said.
The crowd watched the balloon fly away until it became just a speck on the horizon. It would fly for about an hour to a field outside of town.
The festivities continued at the park through the afternoon, with carnival games, a bounce house, local vendor booths and exercise demonstrations by Lodi Jazzercize.
Hot air balloons by the numbers
• It takes about half an hour to prepare a hot air balloon for flight.
• Hot air balloons fly from tree level to 3,000 feet up.
• The balloon holds from 19,000 to 211,000 cubic feet of air, depending on the size of the basket.
• The balloon is between 50 and 90 feet tall.
• If well taken care off, the balloon will last about 500 flying hours.
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