A giant ladybug will descend upon Storm Lake for the Great Iowa Balloon Race this year, as "She's a Lady" will bring her smiling face - and 16-foot long black legs - to the 22nd annual edition of the weekend festival.
The 70-foot high balloon weighs 225 pounds and has eight-foot long antennae perched on the top of the balloon. The diameter of the head is 15 feet, while the nine spots dotting the object are each 12 feet in length. Created in 1997, the Carbondale, Ill., balloon has appeared in numerous flying events across the continent in her five years, including the International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, N.M., the National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa, the Hall of Fame Balloon Classic in Canton, Ohio, and air time over Canadian and Mexican skies.
The friendly-faced balloon is piloted by Southern Illinois University assistant professor of aviation technologies Tom Forenz, a licensed hot-air balloon pilot for 16 years with more than 1,000 logged hours as pilot-in-command. A former mechanic with Eastern Air Lines in Miami, Forenz said he enjoys being able to take She's a Lady out to crowds around the country.
"The best thing about flying 'Da Bug' is when kids come up and tell us this is their favorite balloon," Forenz said. "We've found out that She's a Lady gets great crowd reaction wherever she goes whether she is the only balloon or one of many special shapes."
After commissioning Statesville, N.C.-based Firefly Balloons to build the giant balloon, Forenz began using it for both competitive and entertainment purposes, and said flying the special-shaped balloon was no different than piloting his second balloon, "Da Blues." "Once a special shape balloon is airborne it is no more difficult to fly that an ordinary balloon of the same size," Forenz said. "Often, more time is required for inflation and pack-up of special shapes, but She's a Lady is pretty trim and takes no more than five minutes more than a standard balloon (to inflate)."
With She's a Lady's belly flopped on a gigantic yellow flower, the wings of the green-eyed arthropod will stay folded as she glides over Storm Lake, joining more than 40 other balloons scheduled to take flight. "She's a Lady" will also show off her bright colors during the Balloon Glow event, which will take place on the night of Friday, Aug. 30.
This year's event will be the first Balloon Days for Forenz and She's a Lady, but the SIU professor said he is eagerly anticipating the long trip.
"I'm greatly looking forward to (Balloon Days)," Forenz said. "I have come to know the people in Iowa as rather savvy balloon fans, because they know how the balloons operate and seem to embrace our competitions as well as the sheer splendor of balloons."