Great Texas Balloon Race

Balloonists approach the target during the 2016 Great Texas Balloon Race at the East Texas Regional Airport in Longview.

Although there will be no festival or other airport events during this week’s 44th Great Texas Balloon Race, organizers are encouraging residents to look up at the skies over Longview.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, organizers decided in February not to stage activities at the East Texas Regional Airport but continue with competition flights as the balloon race returns after last year’s cancellation.

“We’re emphasizing the flight aspect of the Great Texas Balloon Race,” said Michelle Ford, chair of this year’s event.

No ticketed events for the Great Texas Balloon Race are planned for the weekend — that includes no entertainment, no balloon glow, no special shape balloons or traditional festival activities.

Ford said the competition flights are the beginning of a return to normal.

“We hope to be back to full a festival event next year,” she said.

About 60 pilots from across the country are competing at this year’s race, which is scheduled Friday through Sunday.

“It’s so fun,” Ford said. “I’m looking forward to it. We wish we could have people, a festival.”

Organizers have added add non-competition evening flights on Friday and Saturday over Longview.

“Our goal is for the (balloons) to fly over the city,” Ford said. “Look up!”

Most of the balloons will fly for about an hour in the morning and about 30 minutes in the evening, weather permitting.

Balloon pilots compete with navigational tasks for points. There are multiple targets on the ground that the crews try to hit with bean bag markers as well as tasks in the air. Each target or task is only open for a certain amount of time.

Targets and tasks will be determined in the mornings and given to the pilots at briefings.

For those competition flights, if any targets across the city are accessible and safe for residents to view, the locations will be posted on the Great Texas Balloon Race Facebook page and at greattexasballoonrace.com .

Ford recommends checking the Facebook page and website about 6:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning to know where to watch. And although there are no targets for the Friday and Saturday evening flights, the direction of the wind/flight will be posted about 6:30 p.m. on those days.

“We’re calling these ‘fun flights,’ ” Ford said. “The evening flights will occur in the city with the location dependent on the weather. It’s hard to say where they will be because we won’t know with the wind.”

Pilots must launch their balloons at least two miles from the first target, so finding the perfect launch point is important, she added.

Flights are dependent on the weather, the wind and where the targets are placed. Viewers are encouraged to be aware and respectful of private property.

Morning competition flights will start about 6:45 a.m. Friday through Sunday. The non-competition evening flights will begin about 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday only.

For flight updates and information, visit greattexasballoonrace.com or Facebook page at facebook.com/GreatTexasBalloonRace .

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.