As a plane flies off in the distance, pilot Phil Ayers watches as he inflates his Roadrunner balloon for a tethered flight for the Arlington Fly-In on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

As a plane flies off in the distance, pilot Phil Ayers watches as he inflates his Roadrunner balloon for a tethered flight for the Arlington Fly-In on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Aviation enthusiasts land in Arlington for the weekend

Hot air balloons glow and stunt planes soar at the 51st-annual Arlington Fly-In. It ends Sunday.

ARLINGTON — Orange flames shoot toward the gray sky, filling the colorful fabrics with hot air.

Bursts of heat escape into the basket, warming passengers on a cool morning. Each balloon is a different shape — a butterfly, a clock, a bird.

Arlington Fly-In visitors can see the hot air balloons Saturday at 8 p.m., illuminated by their flames.

The 51st-annual Arlington Fly-In opened Friday and ends Sunday afternoon. The celebration at Arlington Municipal Airport is all about aviation.

It’s called a fly-in because some people do just that. One-day tickets cost $10 for those who arrive by plane, and $17 for those who drive. Kids 15 and younger enter free.

Enthusiasts who plan to stay all three days can camp at the airport.

Last year, about 35,000 people visited the festival, Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert said. She’s been coming to the fly-in since 1984.

She returns because of the connections she’s made.

“There’s people I’ve known there for 30 years,” she said. “It feels like a big extended- family reunion.”

On Friday, she was looking forward to the balloons.

Tic Toc pilot Laurie Spencer explains balloon flight to Civil Air Patrol cadet Devon Curry during a tethered flight on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Tic Toc pilot Laurie Spencer explains balloon flight to Civil Air Patrol cadet Devon Curry during a tethered flight on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Scott Spencer, of Boise, Idaho, brought two. One is a clock called Tic Toc, and the other a bird called Speedy.

He became interested in flying while growing up in the 1950s.

“Everyone my age wanted to fly,” he said.

He bought his first balloon about 50 years ago, after seeing it in a publication called “The Whole Earth Catalog.”

The price was a little more than $2,000. Spencer saved up for two summers.

“It was a cheap way for me to get off the ground, and I knew I needed to be off the ground,” he said.

Over the years Spencer has formed a ballooning company, started the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, and become well-known for piloting the Mickey Mouse balloon at Disneyland.

Another balloon pilot at the fly-in this year is Bob Romaneschi.

He started to fly balloons in the early 1980s, and now owns a company called Snohomish Balloon Ride. He travels around the world to perform and fly.

Still, his favorite place to float is the Snohomish River Valley.

Ballooning Snohomish flight crew Dwayne Osborne (left) and Drew Cameron grab fabric as they help inflate the balloon named Betty Jean at Arlington Municipal Airport on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Ballooning Snohomish flight crew Dwayne Osborne (left) and Drew Cameron grab fabric as they help inflate the balloon named Betty Jean at Arlington Municipal Airport on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The balloon Romaneschi brought to this weekend’s fly-in is a butterfly named Betty Jean, after his late mother.

Across the airport, aerobatic pilots gathered near their small airplanes that do tricks in the sky.

Ben Rose is the youngest airshow pilot in the country at 21. He received his license about a year ago. He’s set to perform in the show at 2 p.m. Saturday.

His plane has only one seat, while others have two.

“Once you get in it’s really not that tight,” he said. “I’ve flown a lot tighter.”

He moves these kinds of airplanes coast-to-coast for work.

Rose, of Corvallis, Oregon, started to fly because of his family. Generations of pilots on his father’s side have flown before him, going back to his great-grandfather.

Pilots and crew inflate balloons for tethered flights on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Pilots and crew inflate balloons for tethered flights on Friday in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Rose took his first solo flight at age 14.

“That’s the earliest you can fly any aircraft on your own,” he said.

He became interested in aerobatic flying, and joined clubs to get involved. He was hooked soon after and sold most of his belongings to pay for an airplane, including his car.

Now he gets to join other pilots, including Steve Bennett from Boise.

Bennett has worked as a commercial airline pilot for nearly 30 years and in his spare time flies aerobatics.

He started in 2007 when a friend took him along on a ride.

“I went, ‘OK, I have to do this,’” he said.

This is his third time at the Arlington Fly-In. The flight from home takes only a few hours.

On Friday he was preparing for his weekend performances. His flight pattern was taped to the dashboard, just in case he forgets.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

If you go

The 51st Arlington Fly-In runs through Sunday. Doors open at 8 a.m. at Arlington Municipal Airport, 18204 59th Ave. NE.

Daily ticket prices per person depend on mode of travel: $10 for planes, $17 for cars. Find more information at arlingtonflyin.org.

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