“On a scale of one to 10, this is a 10,” ballon meister John Reeder said as balloons lifted around him. “Nobody’s sitting on the ground. Everybody’s leaving. This is wonderful.”

The only balloon not to fly was “Jack N D Box.” Jack, a 120-foot specialty balloon, was the last to inflate. By the time it was fully inflated, the wind had picked up and was bending Jack, Reeder said. Pilot Bill Butler of New Mexico opted not to fly.

More balloons are scheduled to arrive Saturday; 28 are registered for this year’s festival.

Shortly after 6 a.m. Friday, the first balloon was in the air. As “Amazing Grace” from New Hampshire ascended, it fetched applause from the crowd below.

The sound of “SWOOSH” was all over as balloons filled with air. Betty Labbe, 79, of Lewiston, stared in wonder as Old MacDonald’s Farm came to life on the ground.

“It’s beautiful!” she said. “I’ve never seen anything so big, especially compared to those,” Labbe said, pointing to smaller balloons.

The farm is the centerpiece of this year’s festival, whose theme is Celebrating Maine’s Farms. Becky Jones, whose husband Alan Jones is the farm’s pilot, and who is a pilot herself, said all balloons fly the same, even the huge ones.

If conditions are right, the crew hopes to tether the farm balloon and offer rides to children after it lands, she said.

Before the balloons were on the field Friday morning, Barbara and Tom Doyle of Auburn and Anne Laplante of Lewiston sat in lawn chairs waiting.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s too beautiful to miss. I love it,” Laplante said. In the festival’s 18 years, she hasn’t missed one, she said.

Brothers Sean and James, ages 5 and 10, came with their parents, John and Donna Tiner of Augusta. “We started coming when he was really little,” Donna said of James. “He loved it. He talks about it every year.”

During the launch, the balloons seemed to stagger their lifts, making watching extra enjoyable. One pilot showed off by dipping his basket into the Androscoggin River. Crowds watched not only from the parks on both sides of the river, but from the bridge, from windows and rooftops.

People in the balloons floating over Lewiston-Auburn saw people watching them. “They’ll see people in their nightclothes in the streets looking up. They’re smiling,” Reeder said.

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Great Falls Balloon Festival

Launch times, balloon rides

Balloons are scheduled to launch at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Simard-Payne Memorial Park (formerly Railroad Park) near Oxford Street in Lewiston.

You can arrange a balloon ride, which costs $200 if scheduled in advance, $225 the day of. For more information, call balloon meister John Reeder at 784-2442.

For Balloon Festival updates and live coverage at launch time go to: www.sunjournal.com.

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