In this 2012 file photo, hot air balloons give rides to special needs residents as part of a preview day for that year’s Hot Air Festival. Hot air balloons will fly over Van Wert again this year from September 6-8 as the festival returns. (TB File Photo)
In this 2012 file photo, hot air balloons give rides to special needs residents as part of a preview day for that year’s Hot Air Festival. Hot air balloons will fly over Van Wert again this year from September 6-8 as the festival returns. (TB File Photo)

Times Bulletin News Writer

VAN WERT - The 2013 Van Wert Hot Air Festival is quickly approaching and will kick off Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Van Wert Regional Airport with a media event and free tethered balloon rides for the area's residents with special needs. The main events will be held Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Sept. 6-8, at the Van Wert County Fairgrounds.

On Thursday, Balloon Pilot Tony Sandlin and his crew will be offering tethered balloon rides to an estimated 150 persons within the area with special needs or who are limited to nursing home living. Rides are expected to present a once in a lifetime opportunity to those who have been limited as to how they can experience the world around them.

"We are really proud of this event," said Event Organizer Jerry Mazur. "This offers and opportunity for those that are challenged both mentally and physically that do not often have. We are looking forward to about 400 people filling the airport for this day's event." Hot dogs and refreshments will also be provided to those taking tethered balloon rides. Distant balloon rides will also be available this night for representatives of various news outlets. Four or five balloons will be launched from the airport carrying local news reps. Thursday events are expected to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Tickets will be sold at the gate only this year, and admission ticket prices include parking. Armbands will be given to those wishing to come and go throughout the day. Admission will be $10 per person for each individual day. Early bird admission for $5 will be held on Saturday and Sunday from 5-10 a.m. Children ages 12 and under are free.

2013 Hot Air Festival events at the Van Wert County Fairgrounds will begin Friday, Sept. 6, at 3:00 p.m. with the opening of gates, the infield, information center, raffle and gift display, food court, vendors, and Brew Ha-Ha Biergarten. The Brew Ha-Ha Biergarten will be open from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday with entertainment from Jeff Tucker and On the Beach at 8:30 p.m.

Other entertainment beginning at 3 p.m. will include an adult and youth trackless train rides, amusement rides and games, miniature golf, pony rides, a petting zoo, crafts and garage sales in the Commercial Building, a Rolling Thunder POW-MIA/military display, helicopter rides in the infield, and a model train display in the Commercial Building.

This year a variety of vendors have signed up to be a part of the event including AM Concessions, The Cream Puff, Don's Potato Wagon, Express Cart Concessions with lemonade shake-ups, Farmer's Daughter, Fiske, Gibson's Barnyard BBQ, KJG Buerger Concessions, Lugabill Homemade Ice Cream, Nacho Pig, Stumpy's Kettle Korn, Venedocia Lion's Club, and Wild Willy's Pizza.

From 1-4 p.m. the Kids' Dream Day event hosted by Farm Bureau will be held. Balloon launch preparations will begin at 5 p.m., and during this time a spaghetti supper will be held from 5-7 p.m. Official opening ceremonies will begin at the Grandstand at 5:30 p.m. with a special POW-MIA special event and a McDonalds Blimp viewing in the infield.

The Plein Aire Paint out throughout the fairgrounds will also begin at 5:30 Local artists are encouraged to bring their supplies and find a spot on the fairground to captures special moments going on throughout the event through their artwork.

Distant balloon rides are expected to begin around 5:30 p.m. followed by tethered balloon rides at the Grandstand Infield. A flag-bearing sky jumper will be landing in the infield at approximately 6 p.m. A spectacular sight is scheduled 8:15 p.m. for with the Balloon Glow, an event also held at the 2012 event. This event will be taking place following the sunset, and balloons will remain on the ground while their pilots light the burners for a unique light show. Gates will close at midnight following the conclusion of free entertainment with Jeff Tucker and On the Beach in the beer tent.

Saturday's events will begin before sunrise with a brand new events, the Pre-Dawn Glow and Dawn Patrol launch. Gates will open at 5 a.m. with new events beginning at 5:30 a.m. These special events are seldom seen east of the Mississippi River let alone in small town Van Wert.

"This is expected to be a really exciting event that will mark the first of its kind in this part of Ohio," noted Mazur. "Six balloons will depart 59 minutes before dawn and will land following sunrise."

Balloon launch preparations for the 7:30 a.m. launch will begin at 6:30 a.m. Crew rides will also be available during this launch. At 8 a.m., craft and garage sales, train displays, helicopter rides, and the food court will again open to the public.

All other events as seen on Friday will begin at 9 a.m. A First Friends Youth Activity which includes both activities and seminars will be open from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Farm Bureau Tractor Driving Kids' Dream Day event will be held in the infield. Fees to this event are in addition to festival entrance fees.

At 11 a.m., a firearm safety seminar will be held by 4H/NRA Rifle Range in the Junior Fair Building. Kim Hohman's Danceworks will be hosting entertainment in the Gospel Pavilion beginning at 1 p.m. Also at the time, the Brew Ha-Ha Biergarten will reopen with football on a windscreen TV, and a corn-hole tournament will be held at the Agricultural Building.

From 1-4 p.m., Balloon Sculpturing, Pleine Aire judging, awards, and sales, and RC model airplanes in the infield will be held. A special musical event will be held from 1:30-4:30 p.m. with the Fort Wayne Scottish Pipes and Drums. Judging and awards for the McDonald's coloring contest will begin at 3 p.m.

From 3-5 p.m., the GSA display/seminar will be held at the Gospel Pavilion, and a special POW-MIA military tribute special event will be held from 4-5 p.m. A Van Wert Professional Firefighters BBQ Dinner with pork chop and chicken will be held from 4-7 p.m., and tethered balloon rides will continue in the infield from 5:30-10 p.m.

At approximately 6 p.m., balloons will launch into the Van Wert sky. This will be followed by the Todd Allen Show at 7:30 p.m. in the Grandstand. The event is free with reserved box seating available. A second sundown balloon glow will be held around 8:15 p.m. Free musical entertainment will be held in the beer tent by DJ Steve Crippen from 9:30 p.m. to midnight. A light parade and judging of light parade entries will be held in the infield beginning at 10 p.m. and a theatrical fireworks display will follow at 10:15 p.m. Gates will close to the public at 12:30 a.m.

Sunday will be the final day for the 2013 Van Wert Hot Air Festival which will again open at 5 a.m. for a pre-dawn glow and Dawn Patrol launch. Balloon launch preparations will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the second launch set for 7:30 a.m. A pancake breakfast will be held from 7-11 a.m.

Helicopter rides will again be available beginning at 9 a.m., and a non-denominational service held by Gary Adams and the Trinity Group will begin at the Gospel Pavilion at 9:30 a.m. Regular Hot Air Festival events will begin at 10 a.m. with another new event, bed races beginning at 1 p.m. A bed race parade and people's choice voting will also be held at 12:15 p.m.

RC model airplanes will be in flight in the infield from 1-4 p.m., and the beer tent will be open from 1-6 p.m. Free entertainment at the Brew Ha-Ha will be held at 2:30 p.m. with Ken and Mary Turbo Accordions.

Raffle drawings will be held at 4 p.m. with winners announced at 5 p.m. Gates of this yearly event will close to the public at 6 p.m. All Hot Air Festival and balloon activities are subject to weather conditions and some events may be delayed or cancelled due to these reasons. Balloons are unable to launch if winds are above 10 mph, an issue that came into effect during the 2012 event. Refunds will not be available.

"This year we are looking forward to favorable weather," remarked Mazur. "Partly cloudy skies and calm wind speeds are currently expected, so we are optimistic." Parking for the event is available at the fairgrounds from gate four and five on Fox Rd. or gate one at Balyeat Ave. and Park St. Camping at the event is available, and rates for camping can be found at

Distant Balloon Ride reservation forms can also be found on this website. Currently, 47 balloon rides are already confirmed, and Mazur expects all reservation spots to be filled by Thursday afternoon. Six of these balloon rides have been confirmed out of Toledo. At least 60 balloon rides are expected to take place in Van Wert over the weekend.

"The economic impact of such a large event should be great," said Mazur. "If we attract the large crowds we are expecting to see, over 30,000 people could be making their way into town which means new money to Van Wert. The trickle down effect of this event will be good for us as a city and county." The 2013 Hot Air Festival has been advertised in at least four states and in over 43 counties. Even McDonalds has contributed to the event and become and advertiser. The impact of all the advertisement of the festival is expected to be very favorable for Van Wert.