Amy Cunningham
[email protected]
Thirty hot air balloons from around the region will ascend over Gardner at the 2011 Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Invitational set to launch over Celebration Park from May 27 through 30.

A hot air balloon gasses up for flight during last year’s Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Invitational at Celebration Park. The event kicks off at 7 p.m.. on Friday night. File photo

According to one of the event’s organizers, Jason Jones, this is the only ballooning event in the area sanctioned by the Balloon Federation of America (BFA). The 2011 Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Invitational is the site of the 2011 Kansas State BFA Championship. The highest placed finisher from this weekend’s contest will receive an automatic bid to the 2012 BFA National Championship in Longview, Texas.
Jones said the event has attracted balloonists from all over the Midwest including Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Nebraska. Competition will feature two-time world champion Johnny Petrehn.
Participants will show off their ballooning skills during both competition and mass ascention flights.
During competition flight pilots attempt to maneuver their balloons to targets. Jones said once over a target, pilots drop a six ounce bean bag with a three foot tail and try to land as close as they can to the marker.
“It’s a race for accuracy, we’re using wind direction and different speeds to steer the balloons to different locations,” Jones, an experienced balloonist, explained. “They’ll measure and the closest to the target wins.”
A mass ascension is when most of the balloons launch from the balloon field. These flights generally last around 45 minutes.
“We’ll try to launch 15 of the 30 balloons from the park and then the other 15 will stay on the ground and night glow.  They’ll light up like giant light bulbs,” Jones said.  “If the winds are appropriate we’ll let people walk out and see the balloons and talk with the pilots.”
The sport of hot air ballooning is contingent on the right weather conditions.  If professionals deem weather conditions are unsafe the event’s planners may shorten, reschedule or     cancel a flight.
Jones said that Gardner’s location in the Kansas City Metro makes it an ideal spot to host the Hot Air Balloon Invitational.  He said that from this starting point, no matter which way the wind blows balloonists are able to fly.  He also explained that landowners in the area have been very gracious in the past about having pilots land on their property.
“As balloonists we understand we’re very dependent on and appreciative of landowners.  That’s important to me, to try to have good positive relationships with the landowners,” Jones stated.
He said he has been out to the area meeting with farmers and property owners in preparation for the event.
He also said that his group has worked extensively with the Gardner Parks and Recreation Department and they have forged a positive relationship that will help keep the event in town.
The event is free and open to the public. Visitors will pay a $5 parking charge to attend evening activities, free parking at morning mass ascension at 6:30AM.  Food vendors and a beer garden will be onsite with items for purchase. Children are invited to enjoy the inflatables set up in the park.
This is the second year the BFA has hosted this event in Gardner.  In 2010 the festival drew an estimated a crowd of more than 25,000 throughout the weekend.
For more details or weather alerts and updates, please visit
Schedule of Events
May 27
•7 p.m. – Mass Ascension
(gates open at 4:30 PM)
May 28
•6:30 a.m. – Competition
•7 p.m. – Mass Ascension
(gates open at 4:30 PM)
May 29
•6:30 a.m.Competition
•7 p.m. – Mass Ascension
(gates open at 4:30 PM)
May 30
•6:30 a.m. – Competition
Celebration Park
(159th Street and Kill Creek Road)
32701 West 159th Street
Gardner, Kansas 66030