DSC_1103If you’re in or near Wesley Chapel the weekend of September 11-13, look up. You might see something cool that you don’t see too often. It could be a fleet of hot air balloons gracefully floating along the horizon, or a plane from World War II buzzing by. You’re not seeing things, it’s all part of the show.

The second weekend of September will mark the third annual ‘Festival of Flight’ at Tampa North Aero Park, located off Wesley Chapel Blvd. (S.R. 54, although the airport’s address is in Lutz), and it’s not to be missed. For three days, attendees will be treated to numerous activities and experiences that all are meant to fuel interest in taking to the skies. Admission to the Festival is completely FREE.

It all starts at 5 p.m. on Friday night, with live music from Infinity On High and the Harold Jones Band, as well as a presentation of quilts to veterans of the armed services from Quilts of Valor. The highlight definitely will be the balloon glow, in which the 30 hot air balloons that will be attending this year stay on the ground, but fire their engines in loose synchronization with the live music between 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m.

Don’t party too hard Friday night, as all 30 of those hot air balloons will be taking off at sunrise on Saturday morning, a truly surreal sight. Make sure to bring a chair. Throughout the day, attendees will have the opportunity to check out all kinds of aircraft, including a few Steermans (WWII bi-planes), a T-6 warbird (a WWII fighting plane), trikes (motorcycles with attached hang gliders) and helicopters.

Plus, there will be a different band performing every two hours, featuring everything from jazz to classical piano.

“You name it, (the genre) will be playing there,” says Festival of Flight director Jessica Warren, who also owns American Balloons, a hot air balloon company that will be at the festival. She adds that there will be all kinds of food vendors, in addition to food for sale at the Aero Park’s Happy Hangar Café. 

If planes and hot air balloons aren’t enough to keep the kids entertained, there also will be bounce houses, face paining and kites from Kiting Tampa Bay and even a car show. Tethered (meaning still attached to the ground) balloon rides will be available from 7 a.m.–1 p.m.

That night, you can expect some “groovy” tunes from jazz performers Life Of The Party, followed from local rock band Stone Grey. Of course, expect to once again see the balloons aglow.

On Sunday, early risers will get to see another balloon launch and live music from Reverend Barry & Funktastic Soul. The festival wraps at 2 :30 p.m. on Sun.

Warren says that the Festival, which began as a one-day event with 12 balloons, has grown into a three-day extravaganza with 30 balloons. More than 42,000 people already have said they’ll be attending on the Festival of Flight’s Facebook page. 

“About four years ago, we first approached the airport about having a festival,” Warren explains. “At the time, (the airport) needed a facelift. Three years ago, it was remodeled and we did the first Festival of Flight as sort of a grand reopening to reintroduce people to the airport, let the public know that its still open and that you can still go there to learn how to fly.”

Warren says that the festival has grown in popularity with the area and the Lutz/Wesley Chapel event is one of the largest in the country — behind Albuquerque, NM, which annually hosts 600 balloons!

“We don’t have the following for that here, but you still get a similar experience seeing 30 balloons take off at once,” Warren explains.

She says that she hopes the festival helps to draw interest to ballooning, which only has about 6,000 pilots across the country. Warren says that she and her husband first got into ballooning through a neighbor who brought them to the now-defunct Brandon Balloon Classic in 1997.

“On our first balloon ride, we were drawn in,” she explains. “We got addicted.”

They started American Balloons the following year. Now they, do 1-2 rides each day, weather permitting.

Warren says she hopes that attendees will develop a passion for the sky by coming out to this year’s Festival.

“We’re hoping that people who don’t know if they’re interested in flying can get up close and personal with pilots and planes and get as much information as possible,” she says.

For more information about the Festival of Flight, please visit FestivalofFlight WesleyChapel.com and be sure to “Like” the Festival Of Flight Facebook page!

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