Meet the Grants Pass Balloon & Kite Festival’s “balloon meister”

Grants Pass, Ore. — The countdown is on for the Grants Pass Balloon & Kite Festival. For three days, balloons and kites will take over southern Oregon skies, and overseeing it all is one man, the balloon meister.

If you’re lucky enough to be headed to the clouds in a basket beneath a balloon, you want someone like Robert Raper at the helm.

“I’m living my dream,” Raper says.

The Oregon pilot has a little experience; 20+ years and more than 1,600 hours logged.

But even with all those hours under his belt, each time he takes off he’s reminded of what a unique experience ballooning offers.

“The sensation of powered flight-like what you’d get in a commercial jet and small fixed wing and helicopters- you feel the G force,” Raper explains, “in a balloon you feel nothing.”

“Often times you’re so distracted with what you’re looking at you lose all concept of going up in the air.”

Raper will be the “balloon meister” at this weekend’s festival. He’s in charge of checking the gear and the conditions to make sure it’s safe to fly.

“I can absolutely control going up, going down, everything else I have to find,” Raper says.

That means it’s not all that uncommon that a front yard is transformed into a landing site. And that’s when those sixteen-hundred hours of practice come in handy.

“I can slip into a pretty tight street when it’s gentle like this.”

This weekend, that street could be yours, though the landing is only half the fun.

“You watch it leave,” event chair, Caleb LaPlante says, “and I mean you see it in Wizard of Oz and it feels magical just like that when you see it in person.”

Magic that everyone can get a taste of come Friday.

All of the flights this weekend are sold out but there are 6 spots up for grabs on Sunday morning. If you volunteer at the event, you will earn a chance to win one of those flights. Click HERE for more information.

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