LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11)-- Thousands of people turned out Thursday night on the Great Lawn for the Great Balloon Glimmer. It was a chance to get a close up look at 18 hot air balloons.
This Saturday marks the 40th Great Balloon Race, making it one of the oldest Kentucky Derby Festival events. A group of the original pilots from the first balloon race in Louisville attended the night's festivities. This week, they'll return to the skies for a reunion.
"It's the romance of the airman, the soldier fortune, the Walter Mitty. It's in your blood," Bob Waligunda, one of the four original pilots, said.
For Waligunda, Larry Horack, Tom Oerman and Bill Hughes, their day began on the road, as they traveled from cities in New York, New Jersey and Canada. Their night ended underneath pockets of hot air.
"I haven't done it in a few years, so I'm excited about getting up again. Always had a lot of fun when I came to this festival, Don't expect it to be any different now," Horack said.
Thursday night kicked off the Kentucky Derby Festival's Balloonfest with a Glimmer of what's to come this weekend.
"This is the one to come to," Oerman said.
On Saturday morning, the 1973 originals will take an honorary flight during the Great Balloon Race.
"You're up there and the earth is falling behind you. It's a wonderful feeling. Everybody should try it," Waligunda said.
"It's so serene, it takes about 7 minutes on average before people finally let go of their death grip on the rail and relax. The calm comes over them," Hughes said.
For others in the crowd, the view from the ground is just as good.
"You can see the expression on people's faces looking at the balloons. Everybody loves balloons and they smile when they see them," Waligunda said.
Friday morning, the race begins. You can see the balloons take off at 7 a.m. at Bowman Field. Then Friday night, locals can enjoy the much anticipated Balloon Glow at 9 p.m., an event that's expected to attract more than 40 thousand people. The Great Balloon Race will take place Saturday at 7 a.m.