At about 6 a.m. on a Thursday morning a handful of people drive in a white van marked ‘Balloon Odyssey’ to Bowman Field. They’re on their way to fly in one of the Kentucky Derby Festival balloon races.
“I feel much safer flying in my balloon than driving on the Watterson Expressway, I’ll tell you that,” says Brian Beazly, a hot air balloon pilot and owner of Balloon Odyssey.
Once at Bowman Field, the balloon crew begins to unpack a huge wicker basket attached to the back of the van. And inside is the balloon, approximately 75 feet tall and 65 feet wide. It contains 105,000 cubic feet of air when fully inflated.
The balloon crew today includes Brian’s father, Sam Beazly, who’s also a pilot, and Brian’s wife Laura Beazly. They met in the 1980s, through their mutual interest in hot air balloons.
“And then I met Bryan and that was pretty much the draw,” she says.
According to the Balloon of Society of Kentucky, the first recorded flight from Louisville was in the summer of 1837 by a clockmaker named Richard Clayton.
The popularity of modern ballooning in Louisville inflated in the early 1970s. Part of that was due to ballooning being associated with the Kentucky Derby Festival.
Listen to the player above to hear more about Louisville’s tight-knit hot air balloon community today, which is anywhere around 150-200 people.