The Flying Circus / by Mark Andre

The Flying Circus Hot Air Balloon Festival is one of the highlights of the slow August schedule around DC. Combining Hot Air Balloons with Classic Biplanes is a winning combination. To really experience the festival, it's not for those who value their sleep. To catch the balloons going up, you've got to race the sun. The hour and a half trip from DC meant a start time of 3:30 am and navigating the unfamiliar roads before the locals are even awake. 

The first Boeing Stearman out of the hangar being prepped for the days events just before dawn

Arriving just before the gates opened, the grass airstrip was just starting to stir. As the onlookers began to arrive, The Flying Circus and Balloon Pilots began to assemble prepping for the day's events and watching helium balloons drift up into the sky, analyzing the wind to find the best take off and landing spots.  

The Crews Watching the Test Balloons to See Where the Wind Would Take the Hot Air Ballons

After several released balloons, about half of the Hot Air crews left for another airstrip in hopes that the wind would bring them back to the Flying Circus. A few of the crews decided to launch from the Flying Circus Airstrip. 

After the Ballons took off, I was very excited to hop into one of the Stearmans and take a quick jaunt up around the Virginia countryside. My ride for the morning was in tail number 747.

The Plane That would be my ride

Taking Off

The feeling when one of these classic aircraft leaves the ground is really thrilling.

The Morning Air from an Open Cockpit

One of the Balloons Coming in to land in one of the fields surrounding the Flying Circus

The Pilot for my short flight.

The Other Balloon Pilots Drifting Over the Trees

Two Balloons and Another One of the Biplanes

The View of the Airstrip on Landing Approach

John, the pilot of #747 after we landed.

The short flight was, without question, the highlight of the day. I've always been in awe of the technological marvel of flight. Taking the short hop in this classic aircraft gives you a whole new appreciation for it. The connection these pilots must have with their aircraft is really amazing. It is even more amazing that they share it with the rest of us. Sticking your hand out into the slipstream while you're at 3,000 feet is an incredible feeling. 

I spent a little more time wandering around the airstrip before heading back to DC. Unfortunately, the wind didn't cooperate for the balloon crews to land back at the airstrip, but there was one that that gave short rides while tethered to the ground. 

This was the second time I visited the Flying Circus and it didn't disappoint. They had a much bigger crowd which didn't provide the access to the balloons that we had the last time. It was still an amazing morning and worth the early start and I will be back again!

Check out the rest of my photos from the morning below: