Aiming to be lighter than air
DL man returns from International Balloon Fiesta with goal to pilot in event
DETROIT LAKES — David Squires stood, his eyes fixed on the horizon, as hundreds of hot air balloons ascended into the sky.
The rural Detroit Lakes resident has seen the mass ascension at the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., several times as a balloon ground crew member.
Ground crew members assist with the balloon inflation process, which is often followed by chasing the balloon until it lands. Then, they help pack it up.
“I’m a gazelle,” he said. “I’m fast and strong; the first one out of the gate (to get a balloon inflated or packed away).”
According to the International Balloon Fiesta website, the event began in 1972 with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot. By the time the fiesta celebrated its 50th anniversary Oct. 1-9, it was a nine-day affair with more than 500 balloons and about 80,000 attendees (between participants and spectators).
“It is the largest (hot air) balloon event on earth, the most photographed event on earth and the largest annual international event held in the U.S.,” Squires said.
In addition to flying their balloons alongside hundreds of other pilots, there are also competitive games. Squires said the games test balloon pilots' navigational skills, and there is also a long-distance race that is a qualifier for U.S. teams wanting to enter the premier Gordon Bennett balloon race.
While he is entranced with the balloons and activities, Squires said he also attends the event because of the people who go.
“It’s fun to be around people who have the same passion for it,” he said, adding there are between eight and 15 people who attend the event with lakes area ties.
The son of Anita Squires, rural Detroit Lakes, and the late LeRoy Squires began his journey into the world of hot air balloons after a friend invited him to be a ground crew member during a flight near his hometown.
“I asked why he didn’t tell me about this 10 years ago,” Squires recalled. “I was hooked.”
In time he was given an opportunity to get in the wicker basket and rise with the balloon that is lighter than air.
“It is so peaceful,” he said. “The earth just falls away and you don’t feel the G-force.”
After experiencing flight, Squires has thought about getting a pilot license and his own balloon. Recently, he decided to turn that thought into a reality. For the 1982 Detroit Lakes High School graduate to earn his hot air balloon pilot license, he must take classes, a test and earn flight hours.
“To fly commercially you need more flight hours than for a private pilot license,” he explained, adding the Minnesota wind and temperamental weather can make a commercial license a several-year process. So, he plans to go to New Mexico for flying lessons, testing and to gain necessary flight hours.
Albuquerque, N.M., is a prime location for hot air balloon enthusiasts. The weather and wind create a prime atmosphere for taking flight, and even gives pilots the opportunity to take off and land in the same area, he explained.
“It’s known as the Albuquerque box,” Squire said, explaining the wind changes direction at different elevations and creates a box pattern. He added there are areas over lakes that have a similar effect.
After he obtains his commercial license, Squires will have one more box to check — apply for and get accepted to fly a balloon at the International Balloon Fiesta.
First hot air balloon took flight in 1783
According to balloonfiesta.com, in September 1783 Pilatre De Rozier launched the first hot air balloon with animals inside. For 15 minutes the basket hoovered, and then crashed to the ground.
A few months later, the first manned air balloon flight took off from Paris, France, and lasted about 20 minutes.
The founder of hot air balloons died in 1785 when he ascended in a balloon, which exploded a half hour into the flight. The balloon he was flying tied a hydrogen balloon and a hot air balloon together.
The modern hot air balloon was made in 1960.