Clouds keep eager balloonists grounded at Lisle's Eyes
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Some people sail boats, some people ride motorcycles, some like to run like Forrest Gump.
Jerry Copas pilots hot air balloons.
Copas has been flying balloons for more than 30 years, traveling the country and the world, floating, lighter than air, across the sky in brightly colored craft advertising all sorts of different companies.
But when Lisle's Eyes to the Skies Festival opened Wednesday morning, Copas — along with his balloon advertising French Lick Resort in Indiana — never got off the ground. The opening flight of the festival at Community Park near Route 53 and Short Street was canceled because of a low cloud cover, although it didn't stop balloonists from giving visitors a chance to view their balloons, safely tethered to the ground.
"You can feel the cushions but you can't have a seat," Copas said, smiling, despite the disappointment of spending his morning in the clover instead of the clouds.
Copas first became interested in flying balloons when he was growing up in Southern Indiana. He started as a crew member — helping on the ground, chasing balloons in a van — until he got his license.
Ballooning has taken him to and soaring above 49 states (Alaska is the only exception) and numerous foreign countries (Switzerland, Australia, France). He's flown at Eyes to the Skies on and off for the past 20 years.
"Frankly, I'm a Midwest guy, I grew up in the heartland and I like flying over neighborhoods and cornfields and green grass," Copas said. "This is where I prefer to be. We seldom get to fly this close to a major metropolitan area."
Copas met his wife, Kathy, through ballooning. He said taking a girl to see hot air balloons on a first date makes for a more memorable experience than going to dinner or shopping.
It apparently worked because they now have a son, Spencer, and at 14 he's at an age where he can start getting his own license.
For Spencer, ballooning is just something he has grown up with.
"Sometimes he thinks he's qualified (to fly) already," his dad said. "And he probably is. He's better than a lot of people."
Spencer made the trip with his dad to Lisle for Eyes to the Skies. He and Copas' crew held down the French Lick balloon as they waited for the official word that the flight was canceled.
Despite Wednesday morning's setback, Eyes to the Skies will continue through Sunday. The festival features more than 20 balloons and has launches scheduled at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. through Saturday. The carnival is open each day and live music will be performed on the festival's two stages. The fest opens at noon each day, except Friday, when it opens at 3 p.m.
Copas said Eyes to the Skies is one of his favorite ballooning spots. He also enjoys the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, which plays host to more than 700 balloons each year.
"It's exquisite to fly in those mountains," he said of the Sandia Mountains. "But you can't fly in the evening hours because after two hours of daylight the desert winds start to pick up."
Events like the International Balloon Fiesta and Eyes to the Skies bring many balloonists together and Copas has made a lot of friends across the country in his travels. He calls it a kind of "dysfunctional fraternity."
Copas and his fellow fraternity members may not have had the chance to take flight Wednesday morning, but he said clear forecasts through Saturday mean things are looking up.
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