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WITH VIDEO: BalloonFest begins

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Pilot Wes Dickerson, of Milford, Michigan, and crew start to deflate the envelope  of F.O.R.E., a hot air balloon, after landing in a wheat field south of McComb Friday morning. Balloonists provided rides for media Friday morning as Flag City BalloonFest got underway. Activities continue all weekend. (The Courier/Steve Dillon)

Pilot Wes Dickerson, of Milford, Michigan, and crew start to deflate the envelope of Fore, a hot air balloon, after landing in a wheat field south of McComb Friday morning. Balloonists provided rides for media Friday morning as Flag City BalloonFest got underway. Activities continue all weekend. (The Courier/Steve Dillon)

By J. STEVEN DILLON
STAFF WRITER

Wes Dickerson savors mornings like Friday’s in Findlay.

Clear, cool, with a slight breeze, near-perfect conditions, he said, for a hot air balloon ride over Hancock County.

The owner and pilot of the Fore balloon, sponsored by AMRI, Dickerson figures he has flown at least 1,200 times since his first balloon ride in 1980.

It never gets old.

“When I get tired of this, I guess I’ll just stop,” he said passing over plush farmland just west of Findlay. “I’m just not there yet. This is still a lot of fun.”

Dickerson, of Milford, Michigan, brought his balloon and three of his four crew members, Tim Griffith, Gabi and Ray Bresett, with him.

The fourth hand was Mark Bendele, of Columbus Grove.

All had become acquainted long ago through hot balloon shows, and now, after years and years of practice, make launches and landings look and feel routine.

Not often, but occasionally, there are bumps.

Like the time Dickerson was forced to land in a farm field where a woman was excited to see a hot air balloon up close, but her husband was not.

The situation eventually got worked out, but not before the farmer threatened to seize Dickerson’s balloon and authorities, including the FBI, were called to the scene.

Later, the farmer and Dickerson became good friends.

Friday’s launch went off without a hitch. Dickerson’s black, yellow and orange balloon rose gently, the second of 10 or so balloons to ascend.

Once at 1,200 feet or so, the balloon coasted along at 20 mph riding a breeze north and west. The ride was smooth and silent, except for occasional loud “swooshes” from above when Dickerson would open propane burners to elevate.

Closer to the ground, where tree leaves weren’t moving, the balloon’s speed dropped to about 10 mph. Cars traveling on Interstate 75 seemed to be going slower. Startled deer were visible from above as they leaped through corn fields.

The views from every direction and angle were picture perfect. While still miles to the west, Leipsic’s Pro-tec plant was well within sight.

The landing, just south of McComb, was also smooth, once the crew befriended a rottweiler and the property owner wasn’t put off by finding three balloons in his recently harvested wheat field.

“As long as you’re not Russian terrorists, it’s OK,” the man said, as he pulled up in his pickup truck.

Dickerson, a retired engineer, hits balloon shows mostly in the Midwest, and has been coming to the Flag City Balloonfest for several years.

Findlay’s is one of his favorites.

“Findlay does it right,” he said. “They really take good care of the balloonists and the crowds always come out. That keeps a lot of us coming back.”

Friday morning’s flights were the kickoff of the three-day event, now in its 15th year. Various activities are scheduled throughout the weekend at Emory Adams Park, including the crowd-favorites mass launch, balloon illumination and fireworks show on Saturday.

The event is free and open to the public.

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