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Great Reno Balloon Races

Mass Ascension

As most of us have experienced that familiar crisp chill, creeping into our evening and morning routines, reminding us that fall is officially being welcomed into Reno. With September comes lots of traditions, some we know how they originated and others that we don’t know why we do them, we just love that we do! The tradition of going to The Great Reno Air Balloon Race is shared by many and yet most of us don’t know its history. Part of their mission statement is to “celebrate the joy of flight”.  So, do you know why we celebrate The Great Reno Balloon Race in September?

Perhaps, it is because the first hot air balloon launched September 19th, 1783. Who were the brave souls to venture on such an unknown voyage? A sheep, duck and a rooster of course! Sources debate on how long their first flight lasted, but it was anywhere from 8-15 minutes and they flew for 3 kilometers! That seems like quite the successful journey for animals who have no thumbs or knowledge of aviation. The inventors of the first hot air balloon were Joseph Michel Montgolfier and his brother Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier from Annonay, France. They were inspired by England’s Henry Cavendish, who first came up with the idea in 1766; that items can be lifted from Earth using hydrogen. Hydrogen has negative weight which makes it lighter than air which then can be used to cause objects to rise.

The first human to brave the uncharted territory of hot air balloon travel was a French Scientist Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier. For safety precautions they decided it was best to tie Rozier to the craft for his first flight. How successful this first flight was wasn’t recorded, but it went well enough for Rozier to board the craft again a month later, this time unrestrained, and was able to fly over Paris. He traveled 16 kilometers at 3,000 feet for 25 minutes! They were able to keep the air hot for flight by continually adding straw to the fire burning on a grill below the balloon. We have made it a long way from straw on a grill, thankfully and no longer use such dangerous methods to provide continuous hot air for flight!

The first Great Reno Balloon Race was held in 1982 when there were only a mere 20 hot air balloon participants gracing the Nevadan sky. Since its establishment there are now over 100 balloon participants each year. At first, the balloon race was a means to bring in tourism between the Nevada State Fair and the Reno Air Races, but now it has become an iconic event of its own that our community treasures. It brings people from all over together to share a love of community, families and hot air balloons!

The prize show of The Great Reno Balloon Race is Dawn Patrol. The term Dawn Patrol was patented by the board of trustees when federal aviation officials approved pre-dawn flight regulations in 1978. The Great Reno Balloon Race became the national role model for pre-dawn events in 1990 when it began launching balloons before sunrise. Pilots face unstable air conditions as their balloons illuminate the early morning skies and mark the beginning of the balloon race.

The Great Reno Balloon Race would not be possible without the many volunteers, known as Aeronauts. They help with many of the race areas, field set up and breakdown to pilot crews and the multitude of tasks that begin before sun-up. These hardworking Aeronauts are the glue that holds the entire race together. Now that you know how this tradition started, let’s make a new one and thank a volunteer at the event for all that they do! Without them we wouldn’t be able to see the magic and wonder that seeing hot air balloons in the sky creates.


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