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Lift off! How Plano Became the Balloon Capital of Texas

Plano Balloon Festival. Photo by David Downs This weekend, Plano celebrates the 38th annual Plano Balloon Festival.
Plano Balloon Festival. Photo by David Downs

This weekend, Plano celebrates the 38th annual Plano Balloon Festival. A three-day extravaganza with balloon launches, fun runs, live music, a parachute display, Balloon Glows, lots of fun activities for kids and fair food, the Plano Balloon Festival is part of Plano’s identity–it’s why we’re known as the “Balloon Capital of Texas”. Here’s how that happened:

1979: Randy Wright, a real estate agent and president of the Plano Chamber of Commerce, spotted a UFO floating in the sky over Plano. Grabbing a pair of binoculars, Randy was amazed to see a hot air balloon. Inspired, he decided to buy one as an advertising tool and later learned to fly it. Within a year, Randy was part of a team, led by Markita Thompson, planning the Plano Balloon Rally.

1980: Fifty pilots took part in the Plano Balloon Rally. There were five balloon launches, each one lifting off from a different part of the city and no official attendees; the community enjoyed the spectacle from anywhere and everywhere. With remarkable insight into the future, Governor Bill Clements proclaimed Plano the “Balloon Capital of Texas.”

1981: The event was renamed Plano Hot Air Balloon Festival and relocated to Bob Woodruff Park for the first time.

1982: Coors Beer became the first signature sponsor.

1985: Competitive events such as the “Hare & Hound” race were included in the lineup. The “Hare & Hound” race as described in the September 1985 edition of Plano Profile: “One balloon, ‘It,’ is the first to inflate and fly away. Shortly after ‘It,’ (the Hare) takes to the air, the Hounds take off in hot pursuit. After about a half-hour flight, the Hare lands to lay out a target on the ground. The Hounds do their best to duplicate the Hare’s flight, and the winner is the one who drops his marker closest to the target.”

1987: The “Balloon Glow”—held at Collin Creek Mall—was added to the festival lineup of events.

1988: Attendance soared to 75,000.

1990: A “Special Shapes” event was added with weird and wonderful characters such as The Flying Purple People Eater, Hopper T. Frog, Tony the Tiger, Hagar the Horrible and Rubber Duckie.

1995: The RE/MAX Parachute Jump was added and the Dixie Chicks performed. The NASA Space Shuttle and Humpty Dumpty balloons made maiden flights.

The RE/MAX Parachute Jump at the Plano Balloon Festival. Photo by David Downs.

1997: Attendance ballooned to 90,000.

1999: The festival was relocated from Bob Woodruff Park to Oak Point Park. As explained in the September 1999 edition of Plano Profile: “In the early days many launches were held from a variety of locations. Growth throughout the city and in Collin County has made it more difficult for pilots to have appropriate land sites. The move this year to Oak Point Park promises to relieve some of the crowding.”

2003: The City of Plano opened a new area of Oak Point Park, built to host the Balloon Festival. For the first time ever, the entire event was held in one location.

2015: While balloons floated overhead, 4,500 participants took part in the 5K, 1K and half marathon—the newest editions to the festival lineup which were added in 2011.

2017: The 38th annual Plano Balloon Festival, sponsored by InTouch Credit Union, is scheduled for September 22 to 24.

Activities include:

  • The RE/MAX of Texas Parachute Team Exhibition, daily at 5:30 p.m.
  • Balloon Launches, Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Balloon Glows, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
  • 5K run/walk, Saturday at 7:30 a.m.
  • 1K run/walk, Saturday at 9 a.m.
  • Half marathon and relay, Sunday at 7 a.m.
  • Fly-In Competitions—a modern-day version of the Hare & Hound Race—Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m.
  • Live music including the Moving Colors Band from 7 p.m. on Saturday

For more information and tickets visit

Plano Balloon Festival. Photo by David Downs