By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – This weekend marked the beginning of Tupelo’s spring festival season with clear skies and the occasional hot air balloon floating by.
The combined Azalea Festival and Up, Up and Away Festival traditionally brings in thousands of patrons, and Up, Up and Away chairwoman Rachel Becker expected a large turnout.
“Last year we had 4,500 people attend and this year we’re expecting between 6,000 and 8,000,” she said Saturday. “We’ve already exceeded last year’s Friday attendance.”
Becker said 1,200 were in attendance on the festival’s Friday last year and this year event staffers collected admission tickets from about 1,700.
“We had Jack Curtis’ Elvis cover band on stage and people who traveled from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and even New Orleans to come see this,” she said.
Saturday was filled with music, games, craft vendors and the smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes.
Strong Saturday morning winds prevented balloons from taking off but balloons could be seen floating through the sky on Friday and a festival highlight was a balloon glow Friday night.
The balloons weren’t just entertainment – they provided valuable experience for one Tupelo group.
Cadets from the Eagle Composite Civil Air Patrol Squadron out of Tupelo served as crew members for some of the hot air balloon teams, helping pilots ready their balloons.
John Tilton, the wing safety officer for Mississippi’s Civil Air Patrol, brought his 90,000-cubic-foot balloon, the Teal Magnolia, from Ridgeland.
“The Mississippi wing has a balloon and I started using it,” Tilton said. “We try to get the cadets involved in the ballooning as a part of their aerospace education.”
As the cadets progress through the program, they can get an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
Nine cadets volunteered their time for Up, Up and Away: Tim Thornton, Rebekah Anzuini, Case Knight, Samuel Anzuini, Brooks Hatfield, Drew Scott, Cody Tralor, Caleb Simmon and Ian Poinsson.
“We just want to take every opportunity we can to expose them to any facet of aerospace and aerodynamics,” said Aerospace Education Officer Stan Wyckoff of Houston.