Hot air balloons from as far away as Florida are expected to fill the historic South Dakota Stratobowl Friday through Sunday in honor of the local aviation landmark.
The Stratobowl, first made famous in 1934 when the National Geographic Society and United States Army Air Corps launched a manned high-altitude research balloon as early space exploration, now hosts balloonists once a year as a historical tribute to early space exploration and balloon flight.
Organized by Black Hills Balloons in partnership with Sioux Falls Pilot Kay West, the event allows spectators to get an up close and personal view of the balloon launch — and for those willing to pay, hot air balloon rides.
“Launching from the Stratobowl is a once in a lifetime experience for most, but we’re lucky enough to do this year after year,” West said. “Our goal as pilots is to recognize the landowners and help generate exposure and appreciation for this historical site, in hopes that it will be preserved for generations to come.
“If our small annual event can help the Stratobowl gain the awareness and honor it deserves, we’ve done our job.”
Spectators are encouraged to hike the one-mile “Stratobowl Rim Trail” to view the launch. Balloons will lift off just after sunrise, weather permitting.
For a cost, Black Hills Balloons is booking passengers to fly from the event, while DubBus Limousine and Tour Company is offering VIP viewing, allowing access to the launch field while enjoying a champagne brunch.
“The spectators and passengers are the best part of the event,” said Keely Wade, owner and pilot at Black Hills Balloons. “We get to witness their joy while providing an experience they’ll never forget. … And the spectators cheering from the rim trail, it’s just so much fun to hear the excitement in the air.”
The Stratobowl historical balloon event is each September and is only open by invitation to pilots.
Anyone interested in taking a hot air balloon ride can make a reservation at blackhillsballoons.com or by calling 673-2520. The cost is $295 per person.
Spectators can view the launch for free from the Stratobowl Rim Trail, located off U.S. Highway 16, or they can book a seat in the VIP viewing tour through VW Limo Bus at vwlimobus.com. The cost of the VIP viewing tour is $80 per person.
For more information about the Stratobowl, visit stratobowl.com