ANGOLA – Little did Marsha and Walt Drewes know that when their 29-year-old son came to them 14 years ago to borrow money for a hot air balloon, it would become a passion and favorite pastime for the entire family.
The Dreweses, who live in Angola, and their son, Phil Clinger of Battle Creek, Mich., spent Friday and Saturday hosting and coordinating the Angola Balloons Aloft event at Tri-State County Airport in Steuben County.
Started by the Dreweses three years ago, the hot air balloon show has already reached its capacity level of 30 competing balloon entries – double the number of pilots who registered for the first event.
This year the competition exceeded the limit by one, because the Post Cereal “Sugar Bear” hot air balloon from Battle Creek was just “too cute to refuse,” Marsha Drewes said.
Hundreds of people filled the airfields to view the spectacular morning and evening balloon and light shows and enjoy other attractions such as the Red Tail Squadron exhibit, a skydiving competition, remote control air show, children’s fair and hot air balloon rides.
Saturday’s hot air balloon competition awarded $4,600 in cash prizes to the top 15 finalists. The competition is something between a scavenger hunt and various relay games but executed from the air. In one event, pilots guide and glide toward the ground to grab a hula hoop affixed to the top of a pole in a field. If their rig touches the ground, they are disqualified.
Marsha Drew said she was dubious when her son came to them with the idea of buying a hot air balloon.
“I was naturally worried,” she said. “It didn’t seem like the safest sport.”
But Clinger was sure of his request. He had even proposed to his wife, Tammy, on a ride in a hot air balloon.
It did not take long for the Dreweses to become avid balloonists and an integral part of their son’s chase crew – a group of three to five people who work on the ground, helping to assemble, inflate, chase and pack up the balloon after landing.
Clinger, an engineer with DENSO Manufacturing Michigan Inc., paid off the loan early and now owns three hot air balloons. He offers rides as a side business, Altitude Endeavors.
The Dreweses and Clinger, along with his wife and children, Dalton, 13, and Alexandra, 9, spend almost every weekend at a balloon event in the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan area from April through September.
But Clinger is fond of launching the balloon on a crisp, cool winter day, as well.
The heat is harder to fly in than the cold, Marsha Drewes said. In fact, Friday night’s flight was canceled because temperatures soared above 100 degrees.
Hot air balloons fly by changing the temperature inside the balloon with heat. The hotter it is outside, the more heat must be used inside. Very hot weather could result in even hotter temperatures inside the balloon that could compromise the safety and comfort of the pilot and passengers.
Marsha Drewes is retired from Marathon Oil Co., where she was a meetings planner. Her husband retired from the same company where he was a corporate pilot. He is also a member of the Steuben County Airport Board of Aviation Commissioners.
Clinger is the event coordinator for the Steuben County event as well as the Flag City Balloon Fest in Findlay, Ohio, in August. He will be one of the featured pilots in the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in August in Battle Creek, Mich.
Parkview Health has been the chief sponsor of the event since its inception but is now joined by 42 other sponsors, which includes one for each pilot and balloon.
“We see a lot of families at this event because it’s so much fun, and it’s all free,” Marsha Drewes said. “And there’s not too many family events that can make the same claim.”