Hot Air Balloon Championship gets pilots excited to hit the sky

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POSTED: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 3:30pm

UPDATED: Monday, September 30, 2013 - 5:20pm

The sky over Ascension Parish will be filled with colorful hot air balloons this weekend. It's part of the Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Festival and Championship.

Before the festival, NBC33 got an inside look at what it takes to fly one of them!

Kansas City-native, Joel Strudevant, has been flying balloons for over three decades. He says he can’t imagine doing anything else, especially here in Louisiana.

“The friendliest people for balloons are right here in the Baton Rouge-area,” said Strudevant.

Those huge balloons that fly 20 thousand feet above the air take more than just some hot air to get them moving.

"What we do to get the balloon started is we use a big gasoline powered fan that actually blows the balloon up on its side,” noted Strudevant.

Then they hit it with some intense heat which gets the balloon of the ground. Once in the air, the competition begins.

“Hot air balloon competition is not a race for speed, it’s a race for accuracy.’

So pilots like Strudevant use the wind and the altitudes to help navigate in the sky.

“So as we come in we will be dropping little markers just like this little red bean bag here. It’s a weighted marker sand bag at the end of it there. We throw that at the target ad whoever comes closest to the target wins the event.”

And with 60 balloons fighting to win points, Strudevant's balloon stands out among the rest. That’s because the hot air balloons in the competition are around 56 thousand cubic square feet but Studevant’s balloon is about 90 thousand which is one of the largest in the competition. It also takes about 20 gallons of propane and hour to stay up in the air.

So now, after flying his balloon across the nation, Strudevent will hit the wind this weekend and encourages everyone to at least give it a try.

"It’s great for families so you can go get your wife, your kids,” said Strudevant. “It’s great."

The event starts Friday, Sept. 27 and will end Sunday at noon. It's open to the public and only $2 admission. It all takes place at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.

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