COLUMBIA — Seven balloons made it into the air this morning at the final event of the Columbia Balloon Invitational. Their destination was Corporate Lake, where they attempted to drop small bags onto a large X marked in a field before landing in an adjacent field.
Saturday morning's competition was canceled due to bad weather, and in the light breeze that blew Sunday morning, the pilots sent up test balloons to judge whether the conditions were appropriate for flying.
Columbia Balloon Invitational results:
1st: Jim Wolters, Jefferson City
2nd: Maury Petrehn, Kansas City
3rd: Herb Heriford, Jefferson City
4th: Fred Shoening
Layne Wolters, Jefferson City
Pat Fogue, Columbia
Adam McGee, Columbia
Out of the seven airborne balloons, four were blown off course and passed outside of the target and the landing field.
"The winds are very changeable," Mike Fogue, the commentator at Sunday's competition, said. "The pilots' only alternative is to change altitude and find different wind currents."
Fogue said the balloon industry has benefited from new technology such as more efficient burners. And many chase crews, which are responsible for tracking down balloons after they land, are now outfitted with GPS.
"We've seen the evolution of balloons, the evolution of chase crews," Fogue said. "If you're not on the leading edge, you're taking up space."
But despite new technology, pilots only have so much control. They can burn more propane to gain altitude or let air out of the top to drop, but they rely on wind currents to move forward. There are different wind currents at different altitudes, so a pilot's only hope of steering is to go up or down and catch the right current, Fogue said. Wherever the wind goes, they go.
"You can't control the weather," Fogue said, standing near the landing field waiting on his brother, Pat Fogue, to land his balloon. "It's all weather-driven."