PROSSER — Allan and Terrie Sanderson from Albany, Ore., attended the 30th annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally on Friday for the very first time and they brought with them their bright yellow and multicolored diamond balloon, along with a vintage flying basket, and joined the other 17 participating pilots at the Port of Benton Prosser Airport before sunrise.
The soundtrack of music amplified at the field was playing Tom Petty and The Heartbreaker’s “Into the Great Wide Open.” Spectators made their way from the parking area to where the trucks and trailers of balloons were waiting with an atmosphere of hopefulness to be unloaded and assembled with a pilot briefing to follow around 6:30 a.m.
The Oregon pilot said he and his wife, who were recently married in June, usually attend another event on the same weekend but this year they decided to take part in this rally after being informed there were slots still available.
Resembling a distinguished “Indiana Jones” type character with an even keel demeanor, the pilot and the only Federal Aviation Administration authorized balloon inspector and repair facility in Oregon, enjoys flying and the social aspect of the venture, which brought Terrie into his life after his first wife passed away in 2014.
“She had been bringing her kids out to the Albany event,” Sanderson acknowledged. “She actually was going through some old pictures and found one with her twin daughters, who are now in their 40s, were in front of my balloon when I was at the event.”
The early morning balloon gathering also attracted scores of volunteers from all over the region to help set up and prepare the giant balloons for launch. Energetic crew members, some who have volunteered throughout the years while others were lending a hand for the very first time and were assigned to assist the veteran pilots.
“Being out here is always super-fun to help out and set up it up. It’s one of my favorite times of the year,” NaiKia Yule exclaimed. “It’s so nice to get up close and personal with the balloons.”
“I like meeting the pilots and setting up the balloons. The sight of all the balloons filling up is really gorgeous,” Washington State University junior Rachel Blount described.
Sanderson recalled how he used to volunteer and crew on a balloon which led him to obtaining his commercial pilot certificate in 1992. “We need to get more younger people into the sport,” he securely stated.
“It’s good to have a crew with some experience with balloons. They may not have had experience with that particular set up but you’re able to direct them to get everything put together and ready to go,” Sanderson noted.
Yule has been participating as a crew member ever since she can remember and over the years, has developed a camaraderie with a few of the pilots.
“The main part about the balloon rally that I love is that it’s kind of like a little community that comes to town,” the student pilot explained. “They’re like come ask questions and learn more about the balloons. You’re always learning more things.”
Following the pilot briefing, balloonists were informed that the wind speeds higher in elevation were blowing too fast and in a northerly direction, which did not make conditions safe for flight.
“We were a little bit disappointed that we weren’t able to fly. We just try and do the best we can for the event and spectators,” Sanderson conveyed.
The fleet of balloons were able to inflate and lift off the ground while the baskets were tethered and held steadfast by volunteers which provided a colorful display against the scenic backdrop of the Horse Heaven Hills and entertained the crowd.
“We were able to stand the balloons up and show them off, do some tethering and get a few people up,” Sanderson added. “Actually, its kind of gives the public a little bit more to see instead of just everybody watching them standing up and flying away.”