QUEENSBURY - Approaching 40 years old, the Adirondack Balloon Festival has traditionally been considered the premier event of its kind in the nation because it is so family-friendly.
Spectators not only see dozens of colorful hot-air balloons take flight, but get close enough to help a pilot and crew launch theirs, which is unique among ballooning event.
This year's event, set for Thursday Sept. 23 through Sunday Sept. 26, includes seven fancifully-shaped craft among the 100-plus balloons from across the U.S. and Canada scheduled to participate.
The festival, with all activities free of charge, kicks off at 4 p.m. Thursday in Crandall Park in Glens Falls with a multiple balloon liftoff, followed by five more mass flights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury. All flights are held weather permitting.
The specially shaped balloons include "Airhead Invader," from Warren County, N.J. looking like a menacing space alien, and "Shroom with a View," a cartoon mushroom flown by award-winning pilot Jeff Lansdown of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, who has piloted thousands of flights around the world.
The airport liftoffs are so eagerly anticipated that they annually prompt people to get out of bed at 4 a.m. or earlier to get to the airport in time to beat the crowds.
On Friday Sept. 24, the City of Glens Falls will host "Downtown Balloonfest" which includes a block party from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. with food and entertainment highlighted by a "candlestick moonglow" in which pilots ignite their burners, lighting up their massive balloons. More than 50 classic cars will be on hand, with live music by The Boothill Band and Bobby Dick and the Sundowners, followed by a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. in Centennial Circle.
The action at the airport includes an art show, concessions to benefit local charities, military aircraft on display, kites, a rock climbing wall for kids and church services on Sunday morning.