Many students have witnessed hot air balloons in flight, criss-crossing Bloomington on fall days with clear skies. Some have taken to social media to share images of them. Junior Amna Ahmed posted a picture of these balloons on Saturday afternoon.
“I think it’s a nice change of scenery,” Ahmed said. “Especially now, it’s really nice to look up at the sky and see something so cute and colorful to take your mind off of the negatives.”
While a lot of students and Bloomington residents have noticed more hot air balloons than usual this year, it isn’t entirely clear to everyone where they come from or what their purpose is.
Bloomington Balloon Rides is a commercial hot air balloon rides provider, and it has been operating in Monroe County for three years. Owner Andy Richardson heads the company, and he’s been flying and working with hot air balloons in Indiana since he was 14.
“I grew up a mile south of the Oliver Winery and the owner, Bill Oliver, has been flying balloons since 1976,” Richardson said. “He’s the one that got me interested in ballooning.”
The balloons are owned and built by Richardson and his team. He owns a balloon manufacturing company, and a lot of the equipment used for flying is built at the Monroe County Airport. Bloomington Balloon Rides has 12 different balloons it owns and operates.
These beautiful balloons aren’t just for looking – anyone can book a flight with Bloomington Balloon Rides on its website and experience one of these trips firsthand.
Bloomington Balloon Rides offers services seven days a week, for about seven months out of the year with the flying season starting May 1 and running until around Thanksgiving.
Like many other local businesses, Bloomington Balloon Rides has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, counter to the negative trends followed by other areas of the economy, Bloomington Balloon Rides has actually seen a more positive effect on business this season.
“It’s actually increased it," Richardson said. "What we’ve found this year is that more people are flying with us because they’re looking for things to do. With vacation and travel plans being canceled this year, people are trying to do things closer to home.”
This explains the increase in balloon sightings this year. Richardson also notes rides are purposefully planned over campus and Bloomington.
“It’s just a really pretty place to fly, and people love seeing views of the campus,” Richardson said.
But planning the flights isn’t exactly an easy task. To the surprise of many, pilots actually have very little control over where the balloons go. In fact, they are only able to observe weather and pick a starting point accordingly.
“It’s all up to Mother Nature, all we can do is look at the wind direction and wind speed and try to take off in areas upwind of where we want to fly toward,” Richardson said.
This makes the process of landing even more complicated than taking off. Although Bloomington Balloon Rides has a number of locations where they have prior permission to land, it isn’t easy to stay consistent.
“We can always try and shoot for those places, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate there’s no way for us to guarantee that that’s where we’re gonna land,” Richardson said. “A lot of the times we’re dropping in and meeting new people.”
Richardson said pilots try to aim for public places as often as possible. This allows them to build relationships with landowners and is overall usually a positive experience.
Junior Molly Brodzeller has also seen a few of these balloons. She’d noticed the hot air balloons even before this year.
“I feel like this is something that is in a way bringing the Bloomington community together,” Brodzeller said. “We all see the same thing, and it brings just a little positivity to everyone’s day.”
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