Recorder reporter floats above Greenfield in hot air balloon Sunday 

  • Recorder reporter Miranda Davis spent Sunday morning in a hot air balloon during the Green River Festival. The balloons float over nearby farms. 

  • Recorder reporter Miranda Davis spent Sunday morning in a hot air balloon during the Green River Festival. Recorder Staff/Miranda Davis

  • Recorder reporter Miranda Davis spent Sunday morning in a hot air balloon during the Green River Festival.

  • Recorder reporter Miranda Davis spent Sunday morning in a hot air balloon during the Green River Festival.

  • Members of the Worthington ballooning crew inflate one of 11 hot air balloons at Greenfield Community College on Sunday morning. Recorder Staff/Miranda Davis

Recorder Staff
Sunday, July 16, 2017

ABOVE GREENFIELD — Sitting inside the “Thunderbuster,” a hot air balloon owned and operated by professional balloonist Paul Sena, the view of Greenfield looks pretty breathtaking.

The fog over the surrounding mountains and hills, people stopping to wave from the ground and the other 10 balloons at the festival floating all around us, it felt like a dream.

I was inside the balloon around 6 a.m. Sunday as part of The Recorder’s coverage of the Green River Festival. My balloon was one of 11 that flew on Sunday morning, each one at capacity with people signed up for rides.

The balloons aren’t just for those getting a ride, though; people gather at Greenfield Community College and nearby homes to watch the takeoffs around 6 a.m. and again at 6 p.m. Early morning and evening are the best times to fly because of the lack of thermal activity in the air.

The balloons were all spread out across several parking lots, and each one had a pilot and a chase crew. The huge, multicolored balloons and baskets are transported using trailers and unrolled onto the ground. They are then partially inflated with a fan, and then additionally by the gas-powered flame that also powers the balloon in the air. Sena and his son, Jared, were like a well-oiled machine when it came to assembly.

As I stood in the Thunderbuster as it lifted off the ground, one of my coworkers who came to watch shouted from the ground, “Miranda’s going back to Kansas!”

Well, not quite. But considering I’m a Kansas native and I’ve been living in the Pioneer Valley for about 10 months, I’m used to “The Wizard of Oz” references (Dorothy nearly gets a ride home in a hot air balloon but Toto runs off, and she then discovers the power of her ruby slippers, for those not familiar with the plot.)

This reference felt quite accurate, considering the circumstances.

As someone who spends most of her time at school board meetings, town halls and grand openings, it was one of my more unique assignments I’ve had while here. Greenfield doesn’t strike me as Oz, per say, but it’s fair to say it’s vastly different from where I’m from.

Sena said we reached about 2,000 feet above Greenfield at the height of our flight, something that really did offer a change of perspective about the town.

He’s also a jokester, who meowed at a dog from above as an owner took pictures and positioned his balloon so he could drop some water from a bottle and startle a friend on the ground.

Yet, at the same time, he stayed relaxed and totally in control of the balloon, able to offer detailed explanations of wind and weather patterns while steering seamlessly.

Beyond operating his own balloon, he’s been one of the coordinators for the festival for about 15 years. He’s been flying for over 25 years, and when asked how he got involved in such a hobby, the answer was cut and dry: “I went out and bought a balloon one day.”

The balloons didn’t fly Friday night, but two went up on Saturday, and several others stood up their balloons on Saturday night and did tethered flights that take people up while the balloon is still tethered to the ground.

Sena talked to his crew of fellow balloonists ahead of the flights, and the lively pilots shouted jokes across balloons while in the sky.

Our flight lasted about an hour and somehow landed in a nearby parking lot from the one we started. Usually, hot air balloons land far off from their starting points, hence the chase crew that communicates with the pilot through walkie talkies. Sena also keeps an extra bottle of champagne, which can help calm an upset land owner if the balloon ends up in unfriendly territory.

He said there couldn’t have been better weather for the flight, considering it was sunny with very little wind. The balloons don’t fly if there’s bad weather or too much wind, and they didn’t fly at last year’s festival.

As we were up in the sky, floating around GCC, Interstate 91 with views of Poet’s Seat Tower and downtown, I was in awe, only to be interrupted by Sena’s most clever joke of the day, which brought me right down to earth.

“Luckily,” he said. “You signed up for the roundtrip.”

Reach Miranda Davis at
413-772-0261, ext. 280
or mdavis@recorder.com.