Hot air ballooning is the world’s oldest form of aviation and air travel. In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers of Annonay, France, made the first successful balloon flight in a balloon filled with smoke from a straw-fed fire. Today, 232 years later, ballooning has become a recreational and competitive sport.
Aroostook County shares a place in ballooning history as the home to two famous Transatlantic Balloon Flights. In 1978, the Double Eagle II launched from Presque Isle and made the first successful crossing of the Atlantic. In 1984, Joe Kittinger became the first person to make the solo Transatlantic balloon journey, launching from Caribou. That tradition continued last summer as Jonathan Trappe launched his attempted trans-Atlantic balloon flight using 365 individual helium balloons.
With the creation of what was to become the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest 11 years ago, balloons have become an annual tradition, bringing color to the sky and visitors to the region.
The festival was born as part of the 2004 Isle Fest, when local pilot Dena Winslow and pilot Bill Whelan from Ontario convinced the then Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce to give it a try. In addition to Dena and Bill, Doug Shippee from New Brunswick flew that first year.
Doug Shippee has flown in every festival since the beginning. He has been flying for more than 35 years. He now has the distinction of being the oldest hot air balloon pilot in Canada.
Isle Fest 2005 saw the expansion to five balloons, and in 2006 the number of balloons rose to nine and Isle Fest was re-dubbed the Crown of Maine Balloon Fest.
Since then the festival has continued to grow and has seen some of the best flying around. Pilots Wendell Purvis (Tallahassee, FL) and Joel Jones (Seale, AL) claim that The County is one of their favorite places to fly due to the beautiful landscapes and friendly folks.
Because of space and available volunteer crew members, the COMBF plans to fly from 12 to 15 balloons each fest. There are also some small one-person balloons called “cloud hoppers” that can now be seen each year.