23 Dec 2021

2021 BFA Balloon Camps in Review

Article by Katie Griggs, Youth Program Chair, Balloon Federation of America (BFA), as published in the BFA Ballooning Magazine, Sept/Oct 2021 edition. 

This year the Balloon Federation of America (BFA) successfully held 3 Junior Balloonist Camps. In June,  we had the Southeastern Balloon Camp in Gaffney, South Carolina, and the High Sierra Balloon Camp in Reno, Nevada. And in July we had the Rio Grande Balloon Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

With a total of 43 campers at the three camps, for 35 of them this was their first time on a balloon camp.

Balloon Camp BFA
Classroom session at the High Sierra Camp

The Southeastern Balloon Camp was hosted at the Limestone College, with flying and tether operations in several areas nearby. One of the highlights of the camp was a trip to the Firefly Balloon Factory for tour of the facility.

The High Sierra Balloon Camp was hosted at Camp WeChMe, with flying and tether operations within an hour’s drive of their facility. The flying areas varied from flying in 100-foot pine trees to open desert areas,  They also worked in a trip to the local repair station for a tour of how balloons are put through the annual inspection.

The Rio Grande Balloon Camp was converted to a day camp due to lingering effects of the pandemic. The Albuquerque Balloon Museum hosted the camp for classroom activities and base operations. Flying and tether operations were done at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Field. They were also treated to a trip to the local repair station for a tour and hands-on instruction on how balloons are worked on.

2021 BFA Balloon Camps
Tethering at the High Sierra Camp.

Campers come in all sizes and stages of balloon experience. Some have never touched a balloon before, and some grew up in ballooning families and have crewed for most of their lives. It really doesn’t matter how much they already do or don’t know about balloons; this is a camp geared for teenagers of all walks of life. Here they are given an opportunity to get hands-on experience with the balloon equipment. All campers were taught to inflate a balloon and given burner time during free flights and tether operations. There were classroom sessions on many topics including: weather, propane safety, repair and maintenance, pilot decision making, balloon systems, crew safety, landowner relations, preflight requirements, understanding the error chain, accidents, reporting, competition strategies, etc.

Not all sessions were so serious. To round out the educational topics there were many creative games added that were also instructional. The games have interesting names such as: Basket Dive (where campers get a chance to look at and find out the names of basket components), Silly Pilot games (where the pilots set up their baskets incorrectly, and the campers go through and try to figure out what is wrong.)

2021 BFA Balloon Camps
Burner repair at the Rio Grande Camp

There were plenty of physical sessions where the campers were able to personally get involved with knot tying, the use of fire extinguishers, team building exercises, as well as the normal physical part of setup and pack up of balloon operations.

The camps are heavy on balloon safety and education, but there are also sessions just for fun. There was interpretive dance, outdoor sports, nature walks, and a variety of fun indoor and outdoor games.

It was a challenging year for holding camps, with lingering effects from the Covid pandemic. But we were able to host the campers in comfort and safety while providing an opportunity for them to learn and experience firsthand the joys of Hot Air Ballooning.