"From the Center of the world to the edge of the Earth"            Pete Hodkinson, 1974

29th Annual Helen to the Atlantic
Balloon Race & Festival
 May 30, 31 & June 1, 2002

The South's oldest balloon event and the United States' only long distance hot air balloon race began on Wednesday evening May 29th, with Bucky Brown inflating and taking off in his helium balloon.  Bucky, David Harwell and Jim Thompson launched at sunset and flew all night.  They landed on Thursday morning in southern Kentucky.  Their chase crew, Roger Cantrell and Michael Harwell, were there and caught the basket before they touched down.


The southeasterly winds that took Bucky to Kentucky kept all of the hot air balloons from taking off on Thursday morning.  The unfavorable direction kept all of the balloons tethering in town.  If the balloons had taken off they would have gone northwest into the National forest.  The take off for the Helen-Atlantaic was postponed until conditions were acceptable.

Again on Thursday evening the wind was not favorable and once again the balloons tethered.  At the evening pilots briefing we welcomed Bucky, David, Jim, Roger and Michael home.

Friday morning brought a more favorable wind direction.  While the low level winds were still blowing to the north, the winds above 4000 ft were in a southeasterly direction.  The first balloon off was Don Edwards (Orlando, FL).  He was followed shortly by Dan Stukas (Marietta, GA).  Dan was once again flying the Anderson, SC balloon, in which he won last year's race.  Next off was David Bristol (Helen, GA).  Then Charlie Loucks (Greenville, SC) was next in the air.  Many other balloonist launched for a beautiful flight over the senic north Georgia mountains.  The winds were slow and after the morning flight the racers to the coast only found themselves in the Cleveland to Cornelia, GA area.

At the afternoon briefing, it appeared that storms in the area would be moving into Helen, so no one flew.  Several balloonist got their balloons out and tethered for the crowd.  Dan Stukas, who was ahead in the race to the Atlantic, felt he had a sufficient lead and given the weather, no one was going to be able to fly and get ahead of him.  However, David Bristol carefully checked the weather and noted that the storms were not in the area where he would be flying and took off from his morning position to try and beat Dan's position in the Helen-Atlantic race.  David landed approximately 30 minutes before sunset in Cornelia, GA believing that he had beaten Dan.  David thought that he was closer to the finish line (I-95) than was Dan.  At sunset that evening the race was over, with no one making it all the way to the coast.  After careful plotting it was determined that David Bristol's distance to the finish line was identicle to that of Dan Stukas.  A tie would be declared for only the second time in the history of the race.  If Dan had gone back out and flown, there would have been no way that David could have caught him.  If David had flown on for a few more minutes, he would have been ahead of Dan.  Since there was no flying in Helen this evening the margarita machine was cranked up.  In addition to margaritas, a new drink "purple stuff" was introduced at this year's event.  After the Friday night party, the "purple stuff" received a new name - "purple slippers", thanks to David Bristol.

Saturday morning brought some of the most picturesque flights ever in Helen.  All balloons flew.  It was a beautiful site with all of the balloons over Helen.  At noon everyone (50+) went tubing down the Chattachoochee, thanks to Terry Sims and Cool River Tubing (706-878-2665).  After tubing, a hotdog roast was held on the banks of the river behind the Helendorf.  Dan & Susan Stukas provided the hotdogs and Earl Miller made his famous Cesar salad.

Saturday evening brought some wind.  The wind did not calm early enough before sunset to allow everyone to fly.  Those balloons that did struggle to fly were awarded with another truly breathing view of the mountains.  The balloons that did not fly, inflated and gave tethered rides to the large crowd.  Many THANKS to all of the balloons who tethered and gave rides.  After the flight and the tethered rides, the dinner and party was held at the Helendorf.  Entertainment was provided by Mike and Stan Turner.  They were accompanied on occassion by Bill Wright, Robert Willbanks & Gary Zielinski.  The trophy for the 2001 Helen-Atlantic balloon race was awarded to Dan Stukas.  A roast of the longest active participant in the balloon festival, Bucky Brown, was held.  Bucky has been first brought a balloon to the Helen race in 1975 and has participated every year since.  In the last two years, he has entertained us with his hot air balloon as well as his helium balloon.  After the awards, Carol Weiner and her margarita machine once again won the hospitality award.  .

THANKS to everyone - pilots, crew, volunteers & sponsors - for helping to make this year's event great.  See you next year!




click here to see a slide show of this year's event-     http://photos.yahoo.com/bc/ronhilburn/slideshow?&.dir=/2002+Helen+GA&.src=ph&.view=t

Click here to see photos of some of 2004's participants. 
Race Headquarters, sponsor and organizer of the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon race and festival  706-878-2271
Manufacturer of FAA Approved Hot Air Balloons
Co-Sponsor of the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race.  For more information send email to:  wldbnchint@aol.com  
Official homepage of Alpine Helen, Georgia
 The Helen Story  the history of Helen's transformation - The Helen Story  
and images of the past
Click here to see Helen's 1st balloon ascension  

copyright 2002 - HABR

Click here to see Désirée and Tarp's webpage