Finally, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Post Mills Balloon Festival has returned. This is one of my favorite events every spring, when hot-air balloon enthusiasts gather at the tiny Post Mills Airport for a weekend of ballooning and fellowship. The term ‘airport’ hardly fits, because it is a simple grassy airstrip nestled between a forested wetland and the town cemetery, but the lure of these graceful, vibrantly colorful balloons on a cool spring morning brings me back every year. Read on, and check out the gallery!
I was the third visitor to arrive, shortly before 6am, as the sun rose over the surrounding trees and started to dry the dew off the field. One balloon was already inflating and rose into the still morning air as I strode onto the field, cameras in hand, following another early-arriving photographer. All the action happens in the first hour, as each pilot stretches their fabric balloon out across the grass, checks all the fabric and ropes, and cranks up a fan to fill the balloon with air. Soon they and their team spark that propane burner into life and you hear it roar, blasting hot air into the balloon. The balloon slowly grows, takes shape, and begins to float. One by one, over an hour, I saw twenty-one balloons swell and rise gracefully into the blue sky of a Vermont spring morning.
This year’s gathering was especially meaningful, because its founder and host, Brian Boland, died in a tragic ballooning accident last summer. A follow-up news story confirmed what I’d heard, which is that he was one of the world’s great balloonists, holding several world records while also being the iconoclastic owner of this grass airstrip in the tiny town of Post Mills, Vermont. As one posthumous biography notes, “Brian held many records in ballooning, including an altitude record of 11,375 feet in 1978 and in 1988 the Absolute World Altitude Record for all types of airships of 16,600 ft. In 1995 he few his homebuilt BX-3 hot air airship to 20,496 feet….” I never realized that this local festival was such a big deal: “The Experimental Balloon and Airship Association would hold its annual meet at the airport in May and was the world’s largest gathering of homebuilt, original design, lighter-than-air flying machines.” He was very kind, giving free rides to kids at the festival – as shown below in my 2014 photograph.