Balloon pilots from across the globe hit High River from Sept. 21-25 to celebrate its fourth year hosting the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

 The festival brings pilots together to compete in five days of balloon races, which resemble navigation competitions.

Commercial pilot Martin Cowling has travelled from England to compete, and is flying the “Little Boy” shape this year.

“[It’s] one of a pair, a boy and a girl. They were originally ride balloons out in Holland and spent the first five years of their life carrying passengers every day. Then they retired, and we’ve just continued to take them everywhere in the world.”

Cowling took his first flight in 2002 when he lived in Dubai, and instantly fell in love.

“We were running an event and we had some balloons come as part of [it],” Cowling says. “So six o’ clock one morning I got a ride in a balloon. By lunchtime, I’d bought one!”

James Burrows, 18, has also travelled from England to compete after two years of training for his license.

“What makes it so special [is] every flight is different,” Burrows says. “We travel the world doing this, and every time you fly is different. You never get bored of it.”

Alberta is one of the least complicated places in the world to land a balloon, says Burrows.

“It’s really flat and you can just see for miles. All the towns and the fields are unbelievably big, it’s so easy for us to land!”

Glenn Penner of Grande Prairie was awarded first place this year. Cowling and Burrows will be returning in 2017 to compete again.

Calgary Journal videographer Emily Thwaites caught up with Cowling after his Saturday morning flight.

The editor responsible for this piece is Brett Luft and can be contacted at

Report an Error or Typo

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *