Ashland BalloonFest: High Flyin' Fun for the Whole Family!

By Samantha Holzman

June 13, 2017

Paul Dale, pilot of Spitfire named as such because the burner spits fire to make the balloon rise! Plus...Paul likes people that have a spitfire personality! They make life fun, just like the balloon does!

Paul Dale, has been attending Ashland BalloonFest since he was very young. “My father was a pilot and has attended the event a few times,” he says. “It’s where I attained my student’s pilot and private pilot license. It has a personal meaning to me. Being an hour drive from where I live, it’s always going to be on my schedule. I’m always excited to visit Ashland. It’s always fun, a small town that’s fun to come back to.”

He loves simply being out in the ballooning atmosphere, helping crew members of other pilots and visiting beautiful Amish country. This year will be his third year as a pilot, although he has been out on flights 10 times, on staff as a safety officer, or as a crew member for other pilots.

So how did he get started as a pilot?

“When I was six, my mom and dad bought a balloon ride from a local pilot, Maury Sullivan, and he launched from our backyard,” Paul says. “I got hooked from one flight and crewed for him for a couple of years after. He gave my father lessons and the same guy trained me to become a pilot 20-30 years later. This has been in my blood since I was six years old.”

Paul says, “If you have any kind of sense of adventure, there is nothing like floating away on a balloon at the mercy of the wind having no idea where you’re going to land. It’s a very freeing feeling, nothing like it, in the open air of a basket. I had a fear of heights as a kid, but once it’s in your blood, I hope I never lose that feeling.”

We are often asked, "How do balloons race?" The term 'racing' may not be the best choice of words when talking about balloon competitions because balloons don't 'race' in the normal sense of the word. It isn't a 'first across the finish line' endeavor.

In their simplest form, balloon competitions score how close a pilot can get to a predetermined target. Small weighted markers are dropped at the target. The challenge is to be the closest to the target, but unlike all other forms of flying, balloon pilots do not have direct control of their direction of flight. The balloon simply drifts with the wind.

Competition pilots have become quite skilled in reading the winds aloft and using them to their advantage to get where they want to be (the target!). Competitors have gotten so good that the difference between first place and third or fourth can be fractions of an inch.

Paul Dale has mastered the Ashland winds, winning 2 of his 3 Ashland appearances and placing second last year, just behind a first time to Ashland Pilot Dennis Hall.  “I believe he told me he was not coming back as I told him I was gunning for him!  He had a nice weekend and edged me out”, Dale recalls with a laugh.


Why should the people of Ashland come to the Balloonfest?

People should come to see the pretty balloons! They are able to get close to them and see what they’re all about and how simple the system really is. Just to watch a floating wicker basket by fire by the whim of the wind is very majestic. We don’t know where we’re going. There are usually 20-30 balloons and they land in people’s backyards. Come out to the event to be a part of that, because most people don’t get to see balloons up close very often. I’ve answered probably hundreds of questions and we love talking to the crowd. What else is there better to do on a Friday and Saturday?

And as for advice to Ashland folks, if you put a white sheet out in your backyard, pilots know that they’re welcome to land there. Spread the word!

For more information about this year's Ashland BalloonFest June 29-July 1, go to 

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