Twenty-one teens and a large staff of experienced pilots and other adult volunteers are in the Cordele area this week learning about hot air balloons.
The students are from all around the country. Some are from ballooning families and have grown up around hot air balloons all of their lives, some have been chase crew for pilots they have met at festivals or in their community, while others have no experience and had never touched a hot air balloon before.
Experience doesn't matter at these camps - even seasoned balloonists will learn, including the balloon pilots teaching them. Balloonists never stop learning.
The camp is sponsored by the national association, the Balloon Federation of America (BFA). This year the BFA is sponsoring three week-long residential youth camps around the country (Cordele’s Southeastern Balloon Camp is one) and two camps at ballooning events.
Weather permitting, campers will spend practical time outside setting up hot air balloons, learning how they fly, and packing up afterward. They will learn the difference in systems from different hot air balloon manufacturers. If weather conditions are good, they will also get some in-flight instruction.
Campers spend time during the week with experienced commercial pilots. They learn the basics of ballooning, and how to recognize and handle potential safety concerns. The BFA not only promotes ballooning, but safe ballooning.
The weather this week is challenging, but on days flying conditions are good (hot air balloons must have appropriate weather to fly), you may see balloons flying around town shortly after sunrise or in the late afternoon/early evening (before sunset).
Statesville pilot Duncan Dunavent is the Camp Director this year. Duncan began his camp experience 10 years ago as a camper, aged out of the program became a camp counselor, and now is directing this camp..
Dunavent says, “BFA camps helped me grow as a balloonist and I hope these campers learn and grow, and as a result have some of the great life experiences I have.”
Local pilot Ben Drennan is Assistant Camp Director, along with Tara Grogan of Statesville, NC.
Drennan, and Tom Warren of the local Aviation Ranch, are growing this Cordele area as a hot air balloon flying community due to great flying conditions, landing opportunities, and a very welcoming community.