The Summer Balloon Classic and Airfest Gets Us Higher Than a Kite. Literally.

While most of you were nestled in your warm beds or getting ready for work early Friday morning, I was hanging out with Chuck Norris' doppelganger and a group of balloon enthusiasts at Mid-Way Regional Airport in Midlothian.

I made the trek to Midlothian for the annual Summer Balloon Classic and Airfest, which began yesterday with a special media flight as the sun dotted the horizon. I've never been in a hot air balloon before, so I was excited for the experience and to see what the festival had in store for attendees this weekend.

I arrived at 5:45 a.m. to a hangar full of tables and, thankfully, plenty of coffee. By 6:30, a pie-ball, a black helium balloon that is used to measure weather conditions, was released into the skies. An official from the festival gave us the all-clear to fly across the airport's expansive terrain.

My fearless leader and balloon operator was Kinnie Gibson (better known as Rocketman), a thrill seeker who worked as a Chuck Norris' stunt double on Walker, Texas Ranger and allowed me to take a trip on his own balloon. Gibson also has a fascination rocket belts, and he worked on Michael Jackson's tours, including the 1990 European tour in which Gibson flew in his rocket belt on stage at the end of Jackson's concerts.

As Gibson and his crew assembled the balloon, I grew anxious. Yes, I have a fear of heights, but I also knew this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. After Gibson setup his laptop and fired up the balloon, we were ready to go, and soon we were up in the sky, not as high as I had feared, but just high enough to get a panoramic view of the area.

Our flight was short, but I was impressed by how stable the basket was and that there weren't gusts of wind interfering with the navigation as it was pretty windy this morning. But most of all, I was impressed by how safety conscious Gibson was. I felt safe enough looking down to snap photos.

Before the flight, Gibson told me to bend my knees, grab one of the balloon's poles and turn slightly inward. This helped me brace the landing and not tumble around the basket when we finally got to ground.

I must admit I can't wait to go on another hot air balloon, and I might try to convince Gibson or another balloon enthusiast to take me for a spin this weekend. You can also go for a spin in a balloon, or a helicopter, at the Summer Balloon Classic and Airshow.

The festival is going on right now, and today's highlights include an air show at 3 p.m. and the "Lite the Nite" Balloon Glow at 8:00 p.m. The Summer Balloon Classic continues through noon tomorrow. Admission is free. Parking is $10 for one day or $15 for two days. Visit summerballoonclassic.com for the complete schedule and more information.

Follow the Mixmaster on Twitter: @the_mixmaster.

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