The Flag City BalloonFest expanded this year to 50 balloons including several new special shapes. Some of the region’s best competitive pilots traveled to Northwest Ohio where Event Director Phil Clinger always tests the pilots with fun and challenging tasks.
Weather was an issue from the start. High winds and light rain kept balloons grounded Friday night and Saturday morning. Many teams wandered a block from the hotel to a newer Findlay establishment, Alexandria’s. If the beer menu was not enough to keep your attention the “play until you drop” bowling alley upstairs kept us entertained well into the evening.
Much of the day Saturday was blustery with a low ceiling, but Weather Officer Brad Temeyer felt optimistic that things would improve for the evening flight. Sure enough, the clouds parted, the wind slowed, and the rain stayed just far enough away to get about half of the balloons in the air for a non-competition flight in front of a very large crowd. Saturday evening pilots were invited to the annual Tiki Bar party held at a local committee member’s house. The Tiki Bar was discovered by pilot Jody Leatherberry who landed in the yard several years ago, and promptly invited himself in for a drink. Saturday evening Jody again landed at the Tiki Bar and kept his balloon inflated for an impromptu glow as we arrived.
Sunday morning finally brought competitive weather to the area and a three part task was called, GBM, JDG, MJDG. Pilots launched into a low left flow with a roughly 40 degree right hand turn a few hundred feet up. Go up too high though and the turn was not as strong.
The JDG was located in a tight yard west of town surrounded on three sides by fairly high powerlines and trees. The trees made it difficult to see the target and the powerlines made it hard to make a low approach. Pilots had to be accurate with a throw from tree top height to get a good score.
The GBM was set up at the main field. The theme was an Olympic podium with an X positioned at the top of the first place column. The best score was to be inside the first place column closest to the X. Additional distance was added for a baggie in the second place column and even more distance was added to the third place column. There were several close scores in the first place column, but because distance was added to the scores in the other columns the median distance was very large. Making any mark achieved in the 1st place column a good point total.
The third task was a MJDG with a target at the Tiki Bar and another further Southeast. The Tiki Bar target proved to be the only one achievable, but pilots had to be careful because the X was located near a pond. The approach to this target was wide open giving pilots the opportunity to bring it in low for a good score.
One confusing thing about the task sheet. The GBM was listed as task one, however, the JDG was the first target pilots would see as they flew the flight. You had to really read the task sheet to know which color marker to throw where, and a many threw the wrong color. Event Director Phil Clinger made special mention in the briefing that the tasks could be flown in any order. A cruel trick if done on purpose, but this could have also been a clerical error.
The overall results were tight. Less than 70pts separated the top five and less than 50pts separated the top three. The 2012 Flag City Balloon Fest Champion is rookie pilot Devon Cook. Followed by Chris Smart, and Jim Birk. Jim Birk was one of the unlucky few who got caught by the confusing task sheet and threw the wrong marker color, his 50pt penalty cost him the victory.
Congrats to Devon Cook, who’s name you’ll probably hear lots more of, for a very impressive win! And congrats to the city of Findlay, Oh for another great balloon fest!