Rodan is sort of retired — the flying film monster no longer wrecks Japan.
The screeching pterosaur better not launch a comeback in Queensbury this weekend. An airborne green and yellow Tyrannosaurus rex is expected to rule the skies — and perhaps scare traveling geese to death — at Warren County’s annual Adirondack Balloon Festival.
“The T Rex is absolutely huge,” said festival chief Mark Donahue of the dinosaur replica from Ontario. “Some of his teeth alone are more than 6 feet long.”
This year’s celebration is more historic than prehistoric, as the festival’s 40th anniversary is in the spotlight. Balloons first took flight in Warren County in 1973, and the late Walter Grishkot was the man behind the idea.
Donahue has worked on the festival for the past 15 years, and is currently the president of its board.
Adirondack Balloon Festival
WHERE: Crandall Park, Glens Falls; Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, Queensbury Avenue, Queensbury; Battlefield Park, Beach Road, Lake George
WHEN: Tonight through Sunday
HOW MUCH: Free. No dogs allowed
MORE INFO: www.adirondackballoonfest.org
He said people will be reminded of the anniversary during tonight’s opening party at Crandall Park in Glens Falls. A “birthday cake” balloon will be the first one launched at 5:15 p.m., and will be followed by about 20 others.
Other launch times will be Friday at 5 p.m. at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury; Saturday at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the airport; Sunday at 6:30 a.m. at the airport and 5 p.m. at Crandall Park.
More events will mark the 40th. Fireworks will be held tonight at Crandall Park and Friday in Lake George. Evening “moonglows,” during which balloonists will illuminate their envelopes after dark, will be held at 8 p.m. Friday — at Battlefield Park in Lake George — and 8 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport.
“Bring your flashlights,” Donahue advised balloon fans who are planning to attend after-dark gatherings.
In addition to hot air, hot food will also be available. The “big balloon breakfast” will be held Saturday and Sunday from 5 until 11 a.m. at the airport hangar.
Career photographer Grishkot, who died May 11, 2011 at age 85, was doing publicity work for Warren County during the early 1970s, and local boosters were looking for an autumn showcase to attract tourists.
Grishkot talked to a friend who had visited the fabled balloon fest in Albuquerque, N.M., saw some potential and hooked up with Vermont balloon aficionado John Marsden. The two men and Joan Grishkot, Walt’s wife, planned the first Adirondack blow-up at Adirondack Community College.
Eighteen balloonists signed up for the first lift-off. Between 300 and 400 people rose early to watch the balloons drift into the sky at 6:30 a.m.
As years passed, more people began bringing kids and cameras to the spectacle. In the late 1970s, the festival moved to the more spacious Warren County Airport. That location, now Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, remains one of the festival’s main gathering spots.
Inflated petting zoo
“We have one of the largest numbers of balloons ever registered, 104 right now,” Donahue said, adding that the 13 “special shape” balloons expected will be a festival record. “And we’ll be debuting for the anniversary what we’re calling the largest inflated petting zoo, where 10 special-shaped animals will all be inflated together both mornings at the airport.”
Scheduled starters include Betty Jean, a butterfly; Lily, a striped bumblebee; Pig Headed, a pink pig balloon; Pokey, a turtle; and Fred B. Rabbit. The space-themed Purple People Eater and the Airhead Invader will also be on the soar.
Donahue knows the shapes attract people. Ernie Lee, who owns and pilots T Rex, is happy to oblige them.
“People react very differently to T Rex than many other animal-shaped balloons,” he said. “It seems to have an attitude. With a little maneuvering, it can be made to look like it’s taking a bite out of other balloons or people. The kids are mesmerized and the adults are pleasantly surprised.”
Lee is glad he has size on his side.
“Most balloons are about 75 feet tall and this one is 120 feet,” he said. “The tail is also large and long at 60 feet. One foot can easily cover the chase truck. Setting it up can take a little longer, about 45 minutes, and we need extra helpers to hold the legs and tail. In the air, it can be challenging as the balloon revolves and those legs can momentarily be in front of you. A pull on the turning vent rope usually rotates it to a better position. It’s also not advisable to land on its tail.”
Lee has been flying since 1974, the year after he took a ride in a tethered balloon at a local fair.
“I bought my first balloon before I had any lessons,” he said. “Some other pilots offered their help and I passed my tests for my pilot’s license. Although I often had a regular job, ballooning has been a big part of my last 38 years. I’ve managed to fly in some wonderful places. Besides Canada and the U.S., I have also flown in Holland, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy.”
Lee has developed a sense of humor during the years he has floated around in a dinosaur. He can even express faux hope that the great Rodan does find his way to Warren County this weekend.
“Rodan would be a worthy opponent,” he said. “I think the T Rex . . . would bite his tail and swing him around a few times, faster each time and then let him go, preferably in the direction of a large mountain-like structure. He used that trick in Holland a few years ago with the boxing kangaroo.”
Donahue said he hopes people like the extras scheduled for this year’s party. After not running moonglow nights during the past four years, the festival has a double-header planned.
“We’re bringing it back based on popular demand,” he said. “The one in Lake George will be the traditional event. The airport gathering will be the largest gathering on the East Coast, with the ‘40 for 40 moonglow’ on Saturday.”
Grishkot will be remembered during the balloon event he pioneered. “Walter’s Mass Ascension,” a simultaneous lift-off of 100 balloons, will be held Sunday at 6:30 a.m.
“That’s something we started last year and hope to continue for a very long time, dedicated to him,” Donahue said.