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Great Falls Balloon Festival Guest Guide

 The first impression that comes to mind when we see hot air balloons is the free spirit and grace of floating where ever the wind decides to take you. But there is much more to a hot air balloon launch and flight than just riding the wind.

Hot air balloons are considered aircraft and are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just as fixed-wing aircraft are. Hot air balloon pilots must pass a yearly in-flight certification to maintain his or her license as a commercial pilot. The Great Falls Balloon only invites pilots who have met these qualifications.

The balloons themselves must pass a yearly safety inspection which includes testing the fabric of the balloon, fuel system, integrity of the basket, burners, and all other related equipment before the balloon receives its annual airworthiness certificate to fly.

Unlike fixed-wing aircraft, a hot air balloon is dependent upon fair weather. Ideal conditions are calm winds below 8 mph and cool temperatures. Since wind and heat come with the sun, the ideal time for a balloon to fly is early in the morning before the sun gets too high in the sky and in the early evening as the sun begins to descend. The exception to this rule would be wintertime flying when the sun is less intense.

To inflate the balloon, pilots use inflation fans to fill the balloon with outside air. This process is called cold packing. When the balloon is inflated enough the pilot uses his burner to heat the inside air to approximately one hundred degrees warmer than the outside temperature. This is when the balloon takes shape and is ready to fly on a new adventure.

It is the heat inside the balloon that makes the balloon rise. If the outside air temperature is too high, the pilot would need to add more heat to the balloon to compensate. High heat can cause damage to the fabric of the balloon. This is why balloons rarely fly in the heat of the day.

Hot air balloon pilots are always aware of the weather and the function of their equipment. The safety of the people in the basket is a top priority for the pilots always have the final say in whether the conditions are right for them to fly.

The experience that our visitors get at the Great Falls Balloon Festival is rare in the ballooning world. At most festivals, spectators are not allowed in the area where balloons are launching.

However, this up-close-and-personal venue also poses some challenges. Our main launch site is small. Our visiting balloons are huge. Our visitors are smitten. But our pilots and crews need space. A lot of it. They also need to be able to see and hear each other to keep themselves and everyone else on the field safe.

Maintaining a safe environment is a top priority, and it is crucial to the future of the festival.

Below are some things to keep in mind when visiting the festival:


Don’t Smoke. Our visiting balloons carry tanks full of propane gas. Due to the obvious fire hazard created by the use of propane gas, as well as the risk of damage to the balloon envelopes, smoking is prohibited.

Don’t bring your dog. Or your cat, or bird, or snake. With the exception of service animals, NO PETS of any kind are allowed on festival grounds.

Don’t bring your wheels. This includes bikes, skateboards, scooters, roller skates, and unicycles. The level of foot traffic on the walkway around the park is very high, especially at launch time.

Don’t drink. No alcohol is allowed on festival grounds.


Launches are scheduled for 6 am and 6 pm throughout the weekend and are always weather permitting. This includes wind and clouds as well as more obvious conditions like rain and lightning.

In the event of questionable conditions, Our Balloonmeister will wait as long as they can in hopes of a turn for the better. However, a launch decision may be delayed by up to an hour if weather conditions are changing. Ideally, the balloons will launch by 6:45 p.m. This time frame provides a fair ride for our passengers and gets everyone back on the ground before we run out of daylight.

Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston is our main launch site. Additional launch sites may be added if needed.


Specials fly only in the morning. At our evening launches, the special shape balloons will inflate and stay at the field to glow for the crowd. They are large, complex, and hard to pack up in the dark.


This ground-level light show is a crowd favorite! Following the Friday evening launch, some of our visiting balloons will return to the field, inflate and light their burners for a ground-level light show, weather permitting.


There is an ATM available at Simard-Payne Memorial Park, near the Information/Souvenir Booth.

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