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37th annual Balloon Classic kicks off Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival events in Canton with dozens of beautiful hot air balloons

Hot air balloon pilots put on a show on the ground on Friday morning, since weather required the first of five scheduled launches to be grounded
Credit: Stephanie Haney
Pilots put on a show on the ground on the morning of July 29, 2022 to kick off the 37th annual Balloon Classic and Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival events.

CANTON, Ohio — Hot air balloon pilots put on a show on the ground on Friday morning in Canton, to kick off the 37th annual Balloon Classic and the first of many official Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival events.

The 'Hidden Shamrock' balloon crew was one of dozens inflating their beautiful balloons, since the first of five scheduled launches throughout the weekend-long festival had to be grounded due to unsafe weather conditions.

The person responsible for making that call is Balloonmeister Paul Suttle, who is married to the pilot, Penny, of the 'Hidden Shamrock,' making this year's event another family affair for the Suttles who have long been involved with the Balloon Classic.

Before meeting the Suttles bright and early on Friday morning in Canton, I spoke with Paul on Thursday afternoon. He shared details with me about the responsibilities of being the Balloonmeister, how he and Penny got involved in flying hot air balloons, and behind-the-scenes secrets from the pilots' perspective of the Balloon Classic.

"It's a very safe sport," Paul told me. "It's the one thing in my entire life -- I have never experience anything quite like this -- in how many smiles it brings, both to us as pilots and to people around. And every time you look up in the sky [and see a hot air balloon], it just brings a sense of wonderment to you. How something seven stories tall, several tons in weight, could just literally float away from the earth, effortlessly. Gentle giants is what they're called, and that's why we like flying them: making smiles on everybody's face."

Watch my full conversation with 2022 Balloon Classic Balloonmeister Paul Suttle in the player below:

When the conditions are right, the balloons that bring all of those smiles during the Balloon Classic take off from the Kent State University at Stark and Stark State campuses. Typically the balloons fly North and Northeast. 

For every single balloon in the sky, a crew on the ground follows each balloon from take-off to landing. That's important, because you can't steer a hot air balloon. Weather alone determines the flight path and elevation.

There is a weather team that goes through an extensive procedure to determine whether the balloons can fly before each launch, and on Friday morning, the winders weren't in the pilots' favor.

Pilots come from all over the country to fly in the Balloon Classic, with the furthest traveler this year coming from Arizona. Those pilots will have several more chances to get in the sky, Friday through Sunday.

In total, 48 balloons will fly during the four remaining scheduled launches throughout the weekend (weather permitting). Two of those will happen early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, close to 6:30 a.m. That's when the sun's positioning creates the best flying conditions, crew members from the 'Hidden Shamrock' told me. (I was curious why these things always seem to happen so early because we had a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call to get from Cleveland to Canton for this morning's scheduled launch!) The remaining two will happen at around 6:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The event surrounding the launches draws a crowd of about 130,000 people to take in the sights, and enjoy live music, food and drinks, and fireworks (on Saturday night) at the festival grounds, at the Kent State University at Stark and Stark State campuses from 4 to 10 p.m.

Check out the event website, here.

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