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Five competitive forms of hot air ballooning

24/10/2014 Jo Bailey Features

When most people think about competitive ballooning, they think about hot air balloon races, in which the fastest person to fly from A to B is the winner.

It is true that these are the most popular forms of ballooning contests, and they certainly get the most publicity, but there are actually many other competitive forms of hot air ballooning that are equally, if not more exciting than straightforward races.

Here are just five examples of competitive forms of hot air ballooning that you might not be aware of:

Hare and hound

In hare and hound competitions, a number of hot air balloons launch from the same site. The first balloon to launch is known as the ‘hare’, and all of the other balloons are ‘hounds’, which set off after the hare.

The hare balloon lands some distance away from the launch site and lays down a fabric X, which the hound balloons then attempt to reach with their markers. The closest to the centre of the target is the winner.


In an elbow competition, the hot air balloon pilots compete to see which balloon can achieve the greatest change in the direction of their craft. This is one of the more challenging forms of competitive hot air ballooning to date.

Key grab

When taking part in a key grab, it is permissible for the hot air balloons to launch from any site they want, within a certain radius. They must then try to find their target, which is typically a pole measuring anywhere from 10 to 20 feet in height.

Once they have found the pole, they must remove a large ring, which is attached to the top of the shaft. The first pilot to do so is the winner. Sometimes, key grabs and hare and hound-type competitions are combined and the rings dropped to the ground, with the closest to the centre of the marker winning a prize.

Land run

A land run competition is one in which the hot air balloon pilots attempt to cover the greatest area within a particular triangle of land. So, instead of going for distance, they must try to navigate their balloon over as much of a particular piece of land as possible.

Shortest flight

We are much more used to hearing about prizes given and records broken for pilots who manage to fly the longest distance, but there are also shortest flight competitions out there, and they can be a lot of fun.

Basically, pilots who have entered these competitions will try to drop a marker as close to the launch distance as possible, within a set scoring area. The pilot who marks the shortest distance from the launch point to the scoring area will win the prize.

As you can see, there is a lot more to competitive hot air ballooning than simply racing between two points. It is a very challenging and competitive business, which is great fun whether as a participant or spectator.

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