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Amid mixed weather, Balloonfest (mostly) takes to the skies

Those attending the 2023 Michigan Challenge Balloonfest were treated to a spectacular launch Saturday evening.


A field of balloons inflate Saturday, June 24 on an ideal evening for the Balloonfest.
Reubix and Midnight Sunrise fly from the launch field at the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.
The R-2 balloon, piloted by Ken Myer, takes off from the launch field at Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.

The Saturday morning fly-in and Friday night’s launch were cancelled due to bad weather, but clear skies and light wind provided a great show of the flight.


Michigan Challlenge Balloonfest announcer Tom Maynard explains the history and technology of balloon flight Saturday, June 24.
Emily Kline, Joe Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald’s son Connor unfurl the Michigan Cat balloon in the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.


Nicole Bodner, left, crews for the Boo team Saturday, June 24 at the Balloonfest.


Following that launch, balloonists returned to the launch field and inflated for a tethered Balloon Glow where the torches’ flame illuminates the balloons after sunset.


Tammy Cooper of Brighton watches the launch of a field of balloons Saturday, June 24 at the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest.
2-42 balloon crewmember Erica Hahn holds the crown line as balloons prepare to take flight in the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.
The MAX-A-Million and Cat The Rental Store corporate balloons prepare to take off in front of a crowd of spectators at the Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.
From left, Turquoise Noise, Dark Horse, Dream Racer, Joseph’s Coat and Sullair prepare to launch with Purple Haze and Air Bender aloft in the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.

This year’s event included fireworks Friday after sundown and various musical and other acts and Balloons and Brews in downtown Howell, a fundraiser for this year’s Fantasy of Lights parade. The weekend’s activities are coordinated by Infinity Management Group, an event management company based in Howell to help with the logistics, according to Howell Area Chamber of Commerce president Janelle Best.


Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector Jeff Essenmacher watches flights from the launch zone of the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.
Air Bender is seen flying in the distance between others inflating on the launch field of Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.
Christine Bennett of Howell looks at items on display from Kat & Eddie’s Balloon-Tique in the Landing Zone Saturday, June 24 in the Balloonfest.
Jeremiah Bomers of Howell carries his 4-year-old son Isaiah on his shoulders through the Landing Zone booths of the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Saturday, June 24.
Evan Wimp and Ava Christie, both of Howell, relax after the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest launch Saturday, June 24.
Sadie Bass performs after the launch Saturday, June 24 at Balloonfest.

The event is driven by “a couple hundred” volunteers, said Best. Planning for the event starts as soon as the previous year’s event wraps up each year.

New this year was an app available through the Apple Store or Google Play which provided information about scheduled Balloonfest events throughout the weekend as well as pilot, food, vendor and entertainment information. While brochures continued to be provided, Best said that attendees were encouraged to download the app, which provided push alerts throughout the weekend on upcoming events and status of launches and fly-ins as they occur during the weekend’s schedule.

Wade Shows Carnival brought 20 rides to provide thrills between launches, glows and fly-ins. Best said that 15 to 16 food vendors provided a variety of food and drink via food trucks onsite.

Best said that out of a field of 32 balloonists competing, Shawn Raya and his Sullair balloon won the Michigan Challenge. Competitors are challenged to fly to a destination target and drop their beanbag on or close to that target from the air.

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