Colorful balloons to fly high over Howard

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Robert Friedman

The Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival, starting May 19, features 21 fanciful balloons, and offers both tethered and untethered balloon rides. It closes with a ceremony for wounded veterans on May 21, Armed Forces Day.
Photo courtesy of Friendship Hot Air Balloon Co.

Ron Broderick, known as the Balloon Meister, is ready to take you up, up and away into the west Howard County sky before bringing you down to earth at the Turf Valley resort in Ellicott City.

If you don’t want to take the 30 to 45 minute sky ride in one of the 21 balloons on display, you could rise 60 to 80 feet, then descend, in a tethered balloon.

Among the flying fleet is Claw’d, a crab-shaped balloon. Past balloon stand-outs have included Tweety Bird and the Purple People Eater.

Those are just some of the features of the Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival. This year’s event is set for May 19 to 21, 4 to 9 p.m. at Turf Valley. Also scheduled for the three-day events are mass ascensions of the balloons by the pilots, balloon glows when the balloons are lit up from the inside at night, live entertainment, craft displays, and food and other retail vendors.

The yearly balloon bash is held in conjunction with the Preakness Stakes, among the most important of horse races, at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Hooked on flying

Broderick, 74, of West Friendship, has been called the elder statesman of balloon piloting. He said he got hooked on “aviation’s safest sport” with his first hot air flight some 25 years ago.

The veteran balloonist noted that that he will not take off if the winds on the ground are over seven miles per hour, or more than 20 mph. at 3,000 feet. He checks in with the Federal Aviation Authority’s weather forecast before each flight.

To ensure a safe takeoff, “there can be no threat of rain and no thunderstorm forming within 100 miles,” he said.

Asked if any of his flights have been a lot less than smooth, he said, “I’ve been lucky. In 25 years, no incidents.” 

A former telephone company employee, Broderick now devotes his time to taking people on flights around the county lasting up to an hour.

Among his recent takers were Laura and Bill McClelland of Carroll County, who last August celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary by flying high in Broderick’s balloon.

“It was the first time ever in a balloon ride for both of us,” said Laura McClelland, “and it was beautiful. We floated over familiar land, and saw the geometric patterns of the corn maize, the layouts of neighborhoods. When we landed we had a champagne toast, and my husband said we will do it again on our 50th anniversary.”

Regina Ford, Turf Valley’s public relations director (who said she has always been afraid of heights), took to the air in a balloon for the first time three years ago. Unintentionally.

“I went into the balloon basket for what I thought was just a press photo shoot,” Ford said. “Then I was rising, then flying. We went up at 6 a.m., and when I realized how beautiful and peaceful it was, I relaxed and really enjoyed it. We were moving over Route 70, and people were waving from farms and houses.”

Fly at sunrise and sunset

Ford said that, so far, some 200 people have booked balloon flights at the festival. The flights set sail at sunrise and a little before sunset. The balloon’s baskets hold up to four people each. The balloons will not carry a passenger weighing over 280 pounds, and children must be no shorter than 44 inches, so they can see over the rail.    

The balloons go up, weather permitting, at 6:30 p.m. on May 19 and 20 (Thursday and Friday) and 6 a.m. May 20 and 21 (Friday and Saturday). Balloon rides cost $225 per person. Payment is to be made in cash at the time of the flight. To reserve your spot, or be placed on a stand-by list, visit

The tethered balloon rides are $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12. Advance booking is not required for those. There are walkabouts inside the balloons at $3 for both adults and children.

Admission to the grounds for the fair is free. Parking, at $10 per vehicle, will be available at Howard County Fairgrounds with shuttles provided to and from Turf Valley.

The balloons will be glowing from 8:30 to 8:50 p.m., on May 19 and 20. The last shuttle back to the fairgrounds will leave at 10 p.m.

The festival ends at 8 a.m. on May 21, which is Armed Forces Day. People are invited to nominate a wounded veteran to fly in the Operation Getaway closing ceremony by emailing