READINGTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – The New Jersey Festival of Ballooning is taking flight this weekend.

CBS2’s John Elliott got to take a ride Friday morning.

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(credit: CBS2)

Elliott asked festival director Howard Freeman how it feels to be back after a pandemic pause.

“It’s an incredible feeling, John, to be back,” Freeman said. “After being away for two years, this is awesome. ‘Things are looking up’ is our slogan this year.”

“Lot of ups and downs in this business,” Elliott joked.

“Gentle breezes and soft landings, we say,” Freeman said.

“What do you love about taking a balloon ride?” Elliott asked.

“You know, people tell me it’s the most fun you can have standing up,” Freeman said. “It’s the feeling of weightlessness. It’s like a feather, floating over the countryside, or being on, like, a 16th story terrace, but the land is moving beneath you. You don’t hear anything but the sound of the propane heating up the tank. There’s nothing like it.”

Science meets spectacle as the forces of physics and the art of engineering combine to harness the heat of 175,000 cubic feet of air to take flight.

“Once you get the feel of it, it’s like riding a bicycle,” hot air balloon pilot Tony DiCocco said. “People get really excited. They say, ‘I can’t believe it’s like this. This is great.'”

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“The most graceful flight you’ll ever have. No turbulence, nothing. It’s the most peaceful thing you’ll ever do,” Ryan Walsh said.

Elliott asked Jillian Bainbridge what she loves about ballooning.

“I guess the people. Coming out every morning, getting a free workout. It’s just fun to do. It’s beautiful,” she said.

“More kids getting exposed at early ages would be the best for the community. It would grow it so much quicker than it is now,” Walsh said.

The event is more than just hot air balloons.

Performers include Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, Barenaked Ladies and Styx. There’s also more fun and games, including the biggest cornhole game in the world.

The festival is also working with the New Jersey Department of Health to provide free COVID vaccines at the front entrance.

“If you get that shot, you get half off, and everybody gets entered into a sweepstakes to win a ride in the N.J. Lottery Summer Days balloon. If that’s not an incentive to get vaccinated, I don’t know what is,” Freeman said.

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The festival takes place July 23-25 on Solberg Airport in Readington. For more information, visit balloonfestival.com.

John Elliott