SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Ron Oppold casts a long silhouette against a technicolor backdrop. Oppold, a hot air balloon pilot, is focused on the task at hand: filling up his 90,000-cubic-foot balloon with air.
Nearly 10 years ago, Oppold entered the hot air balloon world through the invite of a friend. He began as a crew member, whose duties included holding onto the mouth of the balloon as the envelope filled with hot air. He was hooked. It wasn’t just about the balloons; it was about the people he met.
“The thing that drew me to it besides the love of watching things float in the air and land, was the camaraderie and being around the crew,” Oppold told the Argus Leader.
He later on earned his commercial pilot license and is one of several members of the Sioux Falls Ballooning Association.
The association, started in 1982, came out of a desire to connect with others in the hot air balloon world, according to founding member Orvin Oliver.
“We’re a very connected association,” Oliver said. “And when someone is thinking about flying, we enjoy flying in groups and together.”
The modernized hot air balloon holds a unique significance to the association, because it was invented by Raven Industries in 1960 in Sioux Falls.
Crowds gather as pilots and their crews prepare to take off from Tuthill Park. Kids stare with excitement as one by one balloons lift from the ground and rise above the trees. Ron Oppold and his passengers disappear beyond the horizon.
“It’s something fun to share with the passengers,” he said. “It’s almost indescribable.”