Space shuttle to take flight over Wairarapa
NASA may have called an end to space shuttle adventures but a larger-than-life replica - the gargantuan "Patriot" will be making its first ever trip down under to fly exclusively at the 16th Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta.
The star attraction of New Zealand's premier hot air ballooning competition doesn't need any solid rocket boosters to command attention.
Towering at nearly 54m (8m taller than New York landmark the Statue of Liberty), and with a wingspan of 35m, 'Patriot' weighs in at a scale-tipping 449 kilograms. It is 40 per cent larger than the real space shuttles; you could park one of the now retired shuttles inside the envelope. A crew of 15-20 is needed to inflate and pack away this massive balloon.
'Patriot' will be amongst a visual feast of around 25 other hot air balloons in the four-day annual balloon extravaganza, to be held from Thursday 13 March to Sunday 16 March 2014 - with pilots taking part in a series of competitions and displays at stunning venues around Wairarapa.
Built in Brazil, the space shuttle 'Patriot' was created to honour 100 years of powered winged flight in 2003.
The balloon will be piloted by its owner Barry DiLibero, of Chester Springs Pennsylvania, who has been flying balloons since 1991. After having them land on the family farm several times, his interest was piqued. Working part time for a major radio station in Philadelphia, he attempted to persuade the station to buy a hot air balloon. He took a flight to bolster his written proposal. The radio station didn't buy one but Barry had one in his garage 3 weeks after his first flight, then all he needed was a pilot license.
Twenty two years later, he has 5 balloons and has made sure that hot air ballooning remains a hobby, so it is never "work".
This year, even Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta veterans will have something to look forward to.
There's an exciting revamped programme for 2014, bringing entirely new and adventurous elements for the balloon's pilots and spectators alike.
The event's official opening, or mass ascension, will be held over Masterton, with details of the exact launch point still to be confirmed. Other events include a return to Martinborough with a dawn flight, following a long absence from the south Wairarapa district, a launch from Carterton's Carrington park and a burner parade taking in both Carterton and Greytown.
The fiesta's celebrated highlight, the spectacular Trust House Night Glow will be held on Saturday March 15 at Masterton's historic Solway Showgrounds, where a 'festival atmosphere' will add to the entertainment.
The Night Glow is the jewel in the crown of the fiesta, where tethered balloons glow like light bulbs and brighten the night sky in a dazzling show choreographed to music.
The fiesta will celebrate its final event on Sunday with the hugely popular Henley Lake challenge. The launch fields throughout the four days of the event will be finalised on the morning according to the wind direction, with the aim of the balloons flying over the town in a competition event. All events are weather dependent and may be brought forward, postponed, shifted or cancelled on the day if conditions are unsafe for flying or inflation of the balloons.
Wairarapa Balloon Society chairman Jonathan Hooker said organisers were still working on some other 'exciting' additions to the 2014 event, which he hoped to confirm in the New Year.
The new events and venues were already an exciting part of the new-look event, which also sports a return to the original name of Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta, he said.