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Hot air balloon festival continues to rise in popularity

The hot air balloon rides are sold out, but you can take a tethered balloon ride for $10. There’s also still a chance to fly in helicopters, biplanes, Warbirds and Delta trikes.
Published Sep. 11, 2015

WESLEY CHAPEL — The sky over Wesley Chapel will fill with colorful hot air balloons and other aircraft this weekend during the third Annual Festival of Flight.

The festival runs through Sunday afternoon at the Tampa North Flight Center.

What started out as a one-day event drawing 3,000 people, blossomed into a three-day long festival attracting almost 10,000 people. The event expects to surpass those numbers this weekend. Festival director Jessica Warren said she has heard from people all over the United States who plan on attending.

"We even have people flying in from Puerto Rico," Warren said.

This year, the festival will have a large variety of aircraft, including Cessnas, seaplanes, gliders, biplanes and Leer jets.

But 30 hot air balloons are expected and they continue to fascinate pilots, riders and onlookers.

"I think it's the uniqueness of it, and to see them could be almost a once in a lifetime thing," said Tom Warren, Jessica's husband and a pilot. "They're becoming more and more rare. It is very rare to see in Florida anymore."

There will be plenty of entertainment, including bands and games and activities for kids of all ages. The festival is free.

It kicks off tonight with a performance by the band Infinity on High featuring Zakk Morgan. From 7:30 to 9, the balloon night glow will take place.

The hot air balloon mass ascension follows on Saturday morning at 7.

"The balloons always draw the biggest crowds," said Warren, who encourages people to come early and stay for a fun-filled day.

Festivalgoers will have the opportunity to experience the balloons and aircraft by taking a ride. Though the hot air balloon rides are sold out, people can take a tethered balloon ride for $10. Those looking to take flight in other aircraft can make a reservation at the Flight Tent.

"There are several different aircraft that you can fly in, helicopters, biplanes, Warbirds and Delta trikes," Warren said.

Throughout Saturday and Sunday, people can enjoy a variety of music from eight bands and performers such as Reverend Barry & Funktastic Soul, L.O.T.P. (Life of the Party), Corrine Oliviia, and the Harold Jones Band. The event also includes food vendors.

Contact Danielle Hauser at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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