Michigan Challenge Balloonfest celebrates 30 years this weekend in Howell
At Michigan Challenge XXX, the number 30 is something special.
Balloonfest has been offering high-flying, outdoor family entertainment for three decades, and holds a special place in the hearts of many.
Competition Director Dick Rudlaff helped start the event.
“Wow, what a great run,” said Rudlaff. “We started with a simple idea and here we are 30 years later. Over those years there have been hundreds and hundreds of volunteers. The credit for the longevity of the Howell balloon event goes to each and every volunteer. The event has prevailed, and it has been a wonderful ride. It has produced millions of smiles and thousands of friendships.”
Balloonfest is held at the Howell High School complex, 1200 W. Grand River Ave., and in downtown Howell. The three days of family fun run June 27-29, and are centered around beautiful balloons that decorate the sky. The event attracts thousands of guests annually.
“We are excited about the 30th anniversary of balloonfest,” added Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Committee Chairman Gary Kackstetter. “This is a great time to think back about all of the people who have put their time and energy into making this a great event over the years and what it means to the City of Howell.”
The event starts on Friday, June 27, with an early evening balloon launch followed by the MediLodge Fireworks.
Mass balloon launches take place, weather permitting, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, between 6-8 p.m. Early birds can arrive just after dawn on Saturday and Sunday to watch the pilots compete for the title of Michigan Challenge champion as they fly in to the site after launching their balloons from locations in the countryside.
The Michigan Challenge is hosted by the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce. Supporting sponsors are Citizens Insurance, C & B Machinery and Waste Management. Beverage sponsor is Pepsi. Site host is Howell Public Schools.
What’s new at balloonfest? More aviation and it’s a Michigan thing
Michigan Challenge XXX continues to maintain its tradition as one of the best outdoor festivals in the area.
The Yankee Air Museum (YAM) returns with displays at the balloonfest site and airport including C-47, Yankee Doodle Dandy, flyovers and aviation information. In partnership with the YAM, a special ceremony for Veterans will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday morning at the balloonfest main stage.
The Yankee Air Museum display includes a collection of aviation-related merchandise including the F-101 ejection seat on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
F-101 Voodoo versions included the ‘A’ and ‘C’ model Tactical Attack Fighter. These models were designed to carry a nuclear weapon at high speed and escape at full power to clear the blast effects when the weapon detonated. For pilots, the F-101 Voodoo was a friendly monster though not very forgiving. It was one of the most difficult to fly aircraft that ever served in the USAF inventory. First flown in September 1954, the first Voodoo was delivered to the Air Force in May, 1957.
The F-101 the YAM has on loan was used as a test aircraft for ejection seats and is located at the museum at the Willow Run Airport in Belleville, Michigan.
Balloonfest guests will be able to sit in the ejection seat and see what a real jet seat looks and feels like. A flight helmet to accompany the ejection seat will be available so that guests can have their picture taken looking like a real Voodoo pilot. In addition, women dressed like Rosie the Riveter will be on hand for photos.
A C-47 flyover is scheduled during the Veterans Ceremony.
A short drive west of the balloonfest site, the Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport will host an open house and fly-in from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Display aircraft will be presented by Experimental Aircraft Association, Cessna Aircraft, Cirrus Aircraft and Diamond Aircraft representatives. College degree programs from Northwestern Michigan College Aviation Division and Western Michigan University College of Aviation will each have a booth. University of Michigan Survival Flight aircraft will be on display as well as many vintage warbird aircraft.
“Having an open house at the airport adds to the hot-air balloon launches and fly ins at the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest,” said Mark Johnson, manager, Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport. “We want to celebrate aviation in the county and showcase the airport to the community.”
Michigan Marketplace launches
If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you; but if you seek Michigan-made products, look about the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest.
The Michigan Marketplace is a new attraction and is sponsored by Heart of Michigan. It complements the juried arts festival that has been part of the event for many years and offers guests a chance to see and buy some of the best made products in the state.
Event favorites return for affordable family fun
A must-see attraction at the Michigan Challenge is the Saturday night balloon glow and night skydiving show. As darkness falls, 20 pilots will return from their competitive flights to inflate their balloons on the launch field. It is a never-to-be-forgotten sight as the many colors of the balloons are illuminated against the night sky. Then, the Renewal by Andersen Skydivers make a nighttime jump complete with pyrotechnics.
Daytime attractions include Windjammers stunt kite shows, sponsored by Meijer, carnival rides, comedy and juggling shows. Entertainment is sponsored by Bob Maxey Ford of Howell, Experience Group Fitness & Sauna Club and Atlas Home Improvement.
Artists from all over the country display their handcrafted work in the juried Arts Festival sponsored by Champion Automotive Group. In the arts festival area, kids can play in the Citizens Insurance Family Fun Tent, learn about animals from the Howell Conference & Nature Center and run a foot race at the Livingston County Family YMCA Balloonfest 500.
Parking passes are $14/day or $25 for a weekend pass. Discounted weekend passes are available for $20 until June 26 at the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce. Passes include admission for everyone in the car. Parking is sponsored by Patrick Financial Group, L.L.C.
Downtown Howell features S.T.E.A.M. theme
Saturday is Saint Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital Family Day with activity stations for kids set up on the courthouse lawn.
Visitors to downtown Howell will enjoy great entertainment and family activities, centered around a S.T.E.A.M. theme – science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Activities are presented by the Livingston County Family YMCA.
Visit Howell’s Sunday Farmers’ Market for home grown, home baked and home made goodies. Many of the area’s finest farmers and growers will have their produce for sale. The Farmers’ Market is located on State Street next to the courthouse.
And, all weekend long, shop downtown Howell for special promotions, sidewalk sales and activities. For details, visit ShopDowntownHowell.com.
The downtown venue – with shops, restaurants and entertainment – is a mile east of the Howell High School complex where the balloons launch. The Michigan Challenge is an event to remember and a visit to downtown Howell provides even more memories.
Get social and be informed
Thousands “like” the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest Facebook page, and people can “tweet” about the event at @balloonfestMI, hashtag #balloonfest. To receive updates on your phone, text follow balloonfestmi to 40404.
For more information on the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest, contact the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce at 517.546.3920 or visit www.michiganchallenge.com.