One of the challenges in producing my book about the Tennessee River is doing my best to show, not only how the river changes physically as it carves its path to the Ohio, but also the unique way people use the river. Over the years I have observed and photographed barges, sailboats, paddle wheelers, sculls and even rafts on white water. Several years ago when doing research about the Tennessee River I became aware of the Memorial Day Alabama Jubilee Hot-Air Balloon Classic, held at Mallard Point Park, Decatur, Alabama. After noticing on the map that it is located on the river I thought it would be a great opportunity to show something really unique on that part of the Tennessee River.
So, for another self-motivated photo shoot with Sue pulling the RV and me with the plane—we head to Alabama. Camping with the RV at the Decatur Airport was great because I was able to roll out of bed and into the cockpit of Cloud Chaser to get airborne before dawn and fly over to the launching site of the balloons. As we circled over the park, below us the balloons began to slowly pop above the tree tops as if a child was sitting in the woods with a wand blowing giant soap bubbles into the morning sky.
As the balloons drifted northeast and diagonally across the river we made continuous parallel passes for half an hour. I don’t think I have ever had a flight with such an adrenalin rush. With so many elements in motion, it proved very challenging to control the composition of the shot. Although I could control the position of the plane, the balloons were rising, descending as well as drifting with the wind against a constantly changing background. The tension I felt was like engaging in a dog fight with dozens of other planes. At least they weren’t shooting back at me.
It wasn’t until after attending the event for the next three subsequent years, did we realize how lucky I was to get those great shots. Two of the years the balloons never launched because of high winds. Another year the balloons flew in a different direction that would have not made for good photography.