As ClovisFest makes its return, so too does the Hot Air Balloon Fun Fly, where multicolored nylon, like a kaleidoscope of color, and wicker baskets adorn the sky.
And in a RE/MAX balloon, a familiar face can be seen, that of Bob Locklin — referred to as Magic Bob because of his work as a magician.
Currently an instructor at the Clovis Institute of Technology, Magic Bob has worn several hats, hot air balloon pilot at the forefront.
Magic Bob began piloting in the early ‘70s, then moved to balloons on May 9, 1997, a day he still remembers vividly.
“I went up to Tracy to crew on a balloon for a guy… I had my first flight with him,” Magic Bob said. “I said, ‘Wow, I like this.’ So I went out to crew the next day up in the Sacramento area and got on another flight … by then, I was hooked.”
Since then, with 24 years as a pilot and 20 years instructing younger, Magic Bob has flown all over the southwest and even Mexico.
Magic Bob has years of history as a pilot — and with Clovis — playing an integral part of the fun fly’s inception.
The fun fly origin dates back to 1997 when the California Balloon Festival was in its last year, which had a history dating back to the 1980s.
With it being the festival’s final year, the Clovis Chamber of Commerce worked with Magic Bob to keep an annual hot air balloon event afloat in Clovis.
“We came up with the idea of doing a fun fly, where it was not competitive,” Magic Bob said. “So, in ‘98, we just invited a bunch of people to come out to the fun fly.”
Magic Bob and the Chamber of Commerce decided to schedule the fun fly alongside ClovisFest weekend.
At the time, ClovisFest was held in September, like this year’s event and will be for the next four years.
Hot Air Balloon Fun Fly’s Return
Like countless other events in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and guidelines enacted by the state forced the 46th annual ClovisFest and fun fly to cancel.
“It was not a surprise. I knew it was happening,” Magic Bob said. “We knew it was inevitable.”
Magic Bob knew the event would be canceled when the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta — the world’s largest hot air balloon festival and a multimillion-dollar generating event — announced it would be postponing its 2020 festivities.
Fortunately, as of early August, the event is making its return despite a smaller number of participants.
Magic Bob invites experienced pilots from all over to participate, with as many as 20 pilots in years past.
However, Magic Bob says the numbers are starting to dwindle due to pilots moving or retiring.
“[In the] last several years, because a lot of people moved or retired, we’ve been down to eight to 10 balloons,” Magic Bob said.
Magic Bob says pilots moving on has been a trend in the local hot air balloon community,
“Up until a year or two ago, we had like five or six active pilots here,” Magic Bob said. “But, we’re all getting older.”
For this year’s event, Magic Bob says he has nine balloons signed up, with a possibility of additional balloons as the fun fly draws closer.
The Day of the Flight
When floating thousands of feet in the sky, Magic Bob says only one word describes the feeling.
“To me, it’s very peaceful,” Magic Bob said.
On the day of the fun fly, pilots and festival-goers get to experience peacefulness.
For pilots, they begin setting up their balloons at 6 a.m., just before the sunrise starts to peak out. And as the sun rises, the balloons take flight from the Clovis Rodeo Grounds.
Once in flight, balloons head toward Valley Children’s Hospital, which has been a landing spot in the past.
Festival-goers who will not be participating in the voyage can still take a flight in a tethered balloon for a fee.
“People can pay to get in the balloon and go up and down for a couple of minutes,” Magic Bob said. “It’s to get a feel for what it’s like to be in a balloon, and we take them up easily 50 to 100 feet.”
In the past, Magic Bob has taken between 300 to 400 passengers into the air of the ClovisFest weekend.
ClovisFest is held in Old Town Clovis over two days, Saturday, Sept. 25, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 26, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For the fun fly, balloon inflation starts on both days at 6:15 a.m.