OTTUMWA — Ottumwans will turn their eyes to the sky this weekend as hot air balloons float above the city.
The 36th annual Ottumwa Pro Balloon Races kicked off Wednesday night with carnival rides, Ottumwa Shrine Club’s barbecue pork dinner, Ottumwa Municipal Band concert and balloon activities. The fun continues throughout the weekend with more food, music, entertainment and of course, skies filled with hot air balloons.
This year, 36 pilots from six states — Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin — will maneuver their balloons above Ottumwa as they try to drop baggies onto targets as accurately as possible.
“The fun flight [Friday night] is really a chance for the pilots to be able to meet up with their sponsors and take the sponsor for a ride,” said Dale Dommer, who organizes the balloon races every year alongside his wife, Holly.
During the fun flight, the pilot tries to grab a ring off the top of a pole to win $250. But to up the ante, if the sponsor agrees to fly, the pilot could win $500 if he or she snags the ring.
The fun flight does not count for the overall competition, though. The real competition begins at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Pilots are given different colored baggies, which they have to drop as close to the center of an “X” as possible at two or three locations across the city.
“The balloonmeister [Bill Clemons] determines where the ‘X’ is going to be placed, and sometimes it can be pretty challenging,” he said. “It’s all a matter of accuracy, trying to get as close to the center of the ‘X.’”
But sometimes instead of dropping a baggie on an “X,” the pilots will instead be asked to throw baggies into two large triangles, the distance between them counting toward their final score.