divisions of the state: delta in the west,
rollinghillsin thecenter and mountainsto
“There’s quite a rivalry between the
three,” said balloonist Julian Tune, who
appropriately lives in Nashville, dubbed
Music City USA.
“There’s a good mix of flying area
here,” Tune said. “The only problem we
run into is in the south-central part of the
state there are a lotof Tennessee Walking
Horses. They can be worth quite a lot if
you spook one.”
Flights aroundNashville cantake
balloonistsover homes of country music
stars Alan Jackson and Amy Grant.
“Theylive side by side, but of course
there’s about athreemile difference,”
Nashville, the state capital, hasabout
25 licensed balloonists, but many are in-
active, Tune said. Area pilots usually fly
south orwest of the city. Many newer
subdivisions haveunderground power-
lines and residents encourage balloonists
to land there.
Titans, offerscorporateballoonsa chance
to fly over NFL games. The stadium is
about five milesfrom the airport, so a call
to the tower is needed ahead of time. It’s
usuallyno problem as long as the blimps,
“We’ve had such a wonderful rap-
port with the FAA for the last 20 years,”
Memphis, to the southwest, is flat,
with a lot of marshy, undeveloped land
next to the MississippiRiver.
“We don’t haveany mountains at
all,” said pilot Hulon White. “We have a
lotof trees and have to work around some
crops, but it’s mostly pasture lands.” He
said there are relatively few red zones.
“I haven’t had any problems around
here except gettingshot at once,” he said.
east of the city, under the controlled air-
space of the Memphis airport.
“Up until the last year or two,it’s
been prettyopen,”he said. “Butthe urban
sprawl ofMemphis has encroachedon
our flying area.” White said balloonists
bordering the Mississippi.
“Thecityis pretty congestedand
compact,” he said. Even Graceland is off
limits due to its closeness to the airport.
About 10 pilots and 15 crew mem-
bers around Memphis belong tothe Bluff
CityAerostat Association. Formed about
10 years ago, the club meets every other
monthandschedules groupflights six
times a year.
The club used to participate in teth-
ered balloon rides to benefit a food bank
recently said White, the club’s president.
About six active balloonists live at
the opposite end ofthestate,near the
cities of Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson
Thetri-city areais nestledin the
ShenandoahValley between theGreat
Smoky Mountains tothe west and the
Blue Ridge Mountains along the North
“It’s anicevalley,with plenty of
Kingsport. Typical landing spots include
“Thewindsare usuallyprettycalm in
the mornings,” he said. “We don’t fly if
the winds are over 5mphbecause the
fields are pretty small.”
The view inthe regionisspectacular.
Ona clear day, Turner sayshe can see Mt.
Pilotsestimatethere aremore than 50
active balloonistsinTennessee, including
nearly 20 in Nashville andadozenin
There are no balloon examiners in
the state and balloonistsneed to travel to
to find a balloon repair station.
Forthe mostpart, balloonistsstillget
a hero’s reception when they land.
“It’s not the novelty it was 15 years
ago,”Turner said, “butthepeoplelove for
youto land in their yards. People are very
because many people don’t drink in the
region, Turner said.
“Thisis pretty dry here. It’sthe Bible
Belt,”he said. “Pilotshave to be discreet
if they open champagne.”
A resident once complained to orga-
nizers ofa Kingsport balloon rally be-
cause the eventwassupposed tobe totally
nessee. Many balloon rallies—the largest
themed festivals which can include ro-
deos, barbecue contests, bluegrass bands
and bicycle races. Tethers and glows are
Jackson want to make sure sponsor ban-
ners get seen. So two flightsare planned
for each race. Pilotstry for the first scor-
ing area, land and deflate, then return to
do it all over again.
“It just makes it more interesting,”
said organizer Mike Chase. “We desig-
nate different target goals on each pass.
You have more opportunities to score.”
Pilotsfirst inflate at least two miles
from the target, then are allowed to take
off a mile from the target for their second
pass. Average flight time is 20 minutes.
The top 16 pilotsin the 35-pilotfield
split $10,000 in prize money, plus have
from an event in Nashville, where pilots
could take asmanypasses they wanted to
scores. Nashville’s rally was last held in
1998,andthere’stalk about having it
again in 2000.
If multiple flights per target seems
like a foreign concept, try flyingin Paris,
Tennessee, where balloonistsinflate next
Tower. A pilot once flew close enough to
bendthe flagpole atop thetower. Unfortu-
nately, it wasn’t a key grab event.
Tom Roushhostsa rallynear Chatta-
nooga on the Tennessee-Georgia border.
“Nobodyflew much in Chattanooga
because itwasso difficultuntilwe started
this race,” he said.
The area includesLookout Mountain
and is loaded with CivilWar battlefields
and other historic sites that make up the
National Military Park.
“We had been told we weren’t wel-
come, but when we asked, they said by
every means we are welcomed as long as
we try to land near the roads and stay out
of the marked cemeteries,” Roush said.
When he moved to east Tennessee
from Michigan, Roushwassurprisedhow
little ballooning was done in the moun-
“There was some stigma about flying
here. Nobody flew much,”he said. “Now
there’s sort of a renaissance about flying
here. What you have to do is not land on
Crewing can be harder than the fly-
“There areplaces were youcan’tfind
Roushsaid. “ButI have never flown in a
nicer area. It’s absolutely glorious here. I
don’t know if I want to tell anybody how
good it is here.”
EasternTennessee has an abundance
of power generating plants to stay away
from, each with miles of major hummers
“Yes wehaveelectricity,” Turner
said. “People think of us as hillbillies.”
Other pilotsflying low have spotted
stillsin the hills and marijuana patches.
“You just ignorethem,” onepilot
said. “Allyouhave todo isletitbe known
a balloonist snitched and the next thing
you know you get shot out of the air.”
BluffCity AerostatAssociation, about
25 members in the Memphis area hold
social meetingsand schedule flightson
alternative months.Dues are$5 and
9135 Holmes Road,Collierville, TN
Balloons And Bluegrass,mid-May,
20 balloons fly from Sevierville, near
Dollywood, with a bluegrass festival.
glow, flightsSaturday morning and af-
flight.Hare and houndrace with$1,500
purse. Contact: Tom Roush, P.O. Box
Kingsport Fun Fest Balloon Rally,
late July, 20 balloons, flightsfrom Fri-
evening. Pilotsstay with host families.
The event is part of a week-long com-
munity festival.Contact: Lisa Williams,
Fest, in Paris, second weekend in Sep-
tember, 15 balloonsflytwo flightsand
tether aspartof Eiffel Tower Day festi-
5160 Inman BranchRoad,Franklin,
Jordanfest in Chattanooga, 25 bal-
loons, second weekend in September.
three flights. $1,500 cash purse. Con-
Twelve balloons fly Friday night hare
and hound, Saturday morningfly-infor
$2,000in prizes, Sat.evening tether
and glow. Other events:impersonating
and barbecue contests, high school ro-
Clairmont,Jackson, TN38301. 901-
Great CaseyJones BalloonClassicin
ing, Friday evening glow; two flights
Saturday morningand ahare and hound
places split $10,000 in prizes,plus a