Experimental Balloonists Gather For Annual Fly-In

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The fifth annual XLTA event, held recently in Amherst, Mass., attracted the pilots of 27 lighter-than-aircraft, most of them experimental homebuilts, for a weekend of flying and fellowship. "This is not a public event, not a spectator event, but entirely participatory," organizer Dan Nachbar told AVweb this week. "There is no pressure on the pilots to fly -- but everyone wants to fly as much as they can." This year's 70-plus attendees included pilots and crew from as far away as Wisconsin and Washington state, and five pilots from the UK. They brought with them a variety of creative and colorful projects, from a spectacular tetrahedron-shaped balloon to a hot-air blimp (though the blimp is not a homebuilt but manufactured by Thunder & Colt). About half of the aircraft were "cloudhopper-style," featuring just a harness to hold the pilot aloft, and half had baskets of various kinds to allow passengers. And most satisfying to Nachbar, five of this year's pilots were under 30. "We're generally a gray-haired crowd, not just the lighter-than-air folks, but experimental aircraft in general," Nachbar said. "So it's great to see the whippersnappers get involved."

For more photos from the event, taken by pilot and homebuilder Noah Forden, of Exeter, R.I., click here. A West Coast version of the event, XLTA Seattle, will be held July 25-26. For more information about both events and a photo gallery, click here to go to the XLTA web site.

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Photos by Noah Forden

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