The 42nd annual Great Pershing Balloon Derby takes flight from Brookfield this Saturday from the Myron Preacher Memorial launch site.
Labor Day weekend will be filled with hot air balloon races, events and other community activities in Brookfield.
The Great Pershing Balloon Derby is the longest running, continuously sanctioned balloon event in the U.S. The event started 42 years ago and has been going strong since then.
Green Hill Ballooning Board President Richard Techau says the event is unique.
“There’s just nothing else like it,” Techau said. “I don’t think many communities even have events like this anymore.”
The balloon derby began as a fundraiser for the Gen. Pershing Museum in Laclede. After a few years with a different organization, the Green Hills Ballooning Board was formed to keep running the event. Techau has been involved with the board for the past 35 years. He and his wife Sherry, keep the event running with local volunteers and community sponsors.
Thirty-seven balloons will participate in events this weekend. The events include races, target practice and much more. Races will start Saturday morning after the opening ceremony at 7 a.m. Events will continue throughout the weekend until the final balloon flight at 7:15 a.m. Sept. 3.
The returning champion of the balloon derby is Aaron Foelske. He’ll compete with 36 other pilots, several having ties with Linn County. Sean Smith grew up in Brookfield and graduated from Brookfield High School. Kenny Jay, Andrew Jones, Matt Riley and Rick and Carmen Goosey all have ties to Linn County as well.
The Balloonmeister for the 42nd annual Great Pershing Balloon Derby is Jason Jones. Jones has been flying hot air balloons since 1992. In 2004, Jones became a balloonmeister determining balloon events and control all balloon operations. This will be his third year as the balloonmeister for the balloon derby.
According to Jones, he thanks the community for keeping the event going strong.
“The local sponsors who sponsor these balloons year after year after year, they create relationships with the pilots,” Jones said. “The pilots want to come back every year because of the relationships they make because of the awesome community support.”
Jones says ballooning is fun for anyone.
“I think hot air balloons bring out the kid in everyone,” Jones said. “I encourage anyone to come in the morning and the evening to see all of the events.”
In order to be a hot air balloon pilot, people need to complete registration with the FAA. Not just anyone can pilot a hot air balloon, pilots receive their license, or airman’s certificate before taking off.
The Great Pershing Balloon Derby kicks off Friday morning at 9 a.m. with sidewalk sales on Main Street. Later that night, the South Main Night Flame will begin at 7:30 p.m. sponsored by Tequila Jalisco Mexican Restaurant, McDonald’s and Greg Simerman American Family Insurance. The balloon derby opening ceremony starts Sept. 1 at 7 a.m. followed by the John Petrehn Memorial Cup Flight at 7:15 a.m. The Lil’ Tykes Rolling to the Derby decorating contest sponsored by McLarney Manor takes place in the West Twin Park with registration beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Balloon Derby Parade begins on Main Street at noon. Gates open at the launch site for the evening balloon races at 4 p.m. with the launch happening at 6 p.m. The balloon starts Sunday at 7:15 a.m., gates open for balloon flight at 4 p.m. with launch slated for 6 p.m. The final balloon flight is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 1 at 7:15 a.m.