SYRACUSE — Under cloudy skies, hot-air balloon pilot Dan Montgomery turned up the burner, and each time it responded by shooting a long flame and another burst of hot air into his seven-story-tall balloon.
Each time Montgomery turned the flame up on the propane burner, the students at Bluff Ridge Elementary School, who were watching Thursday morning, would squeal with delight.
More burner. More squeals.
Montgomery had the 65,000-cubic-foot balloon in a vertical position when he began offering teachers a ride in its tethered basket. Upon reaching his objective, the 1,000 students on hand applauded Montgomery, to whom they kindly referred as “Dan the Man.”
Montgomery, along with a handful of other hot-air balloonists, will be part of the sixth annual Antelope Island Stampede being held at the state park during the Labor Day weekend. The festival begins today at 5 p.m. and goes through Sunday night.
“That was so scary. I am not a heights person,” Bluff Ridge Principal Traci Robbins said upon completing a ride.
Robbins was the first faculty member given the opportunity to ride in the tethered balloon.
Montgomery took the principal about 30 feet in the air. While rising above the throng of students, the animated Robbins smiled and gave them the peace sign.
Before the winds shifted, and closed down the party, 20 other faculty members also hopped into the balloon basket to take the short ride.
“I was worried my hair was going to catch on fire (from the burner),” sixth-grade teacher Amy Baird said. “I have a lot of hairspray on. That is my first time up (in a balloon). It makes me want to go on a longer ride.”
Fourth-grade teacher Norm Fowers said he asked the pilot during his ride to cut the rope holding them in place about 30 feet off the ground.
“It was fun, just not quite high enough,” Fowers said.
And while riding in the balloon was a first experience for many of the teachers, for many of their students the whole event was something new.
“I have never been this close (to a hot-air balloon) before,” said 11-year-old Katie Jensen.
“I’ve only seen them at the hot-air balloon festivals,” said 11-year-old Bryson Hirabayashi, who was impressed by how much hot air goes into the balloon.
“It was a lot bigger than I expected it to be,” 10 year-old Andy Bartschi said.
And Mary Thorpe, 10, said she liked the rainbow colors of the balloon.
Montgomery, from West Jordan, said he enjoys visiting schools.
“They’re kind of fun to do. You can see the excitement,” he said.
Montgomery, who has six years of experience as a pilot, told the students that flying a hot-air balloon is his passion, and that they each need to find their passion.
Despite the cloudy weather, rain spatters and shifting wind forcing the students to move on one occasion, Robbins said it was a “fabulous” event.
Because of the Syracuse elementary’s close proximity to Antelope Island, and because the school’s playground has the space for it, Robbins said, it seemed logical to have a hot-air balloonist visit the school.