2019 Thurston Classic

June 13-16

More information coming soon!

History of the Thurston Classic

Ballooning has a very long history in Meadville. The Thurstons were a Meadville family who were involved with ballooning in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Samuel Sylvester Thurston was born in 1834, and operated a hotel in Meadville. In 1860, Samuel learned how to fly from noted balloonist, Professor Steiner, and purchased a balloon. Townspeople were skeptical, but over the next 25 years, Samuel made 215 ascensions in his balloon. He enjoyed sharing his unusual sport with others, flying without charge at fairs, exhibitions, and 4th of July celebrations.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Alic Thurston began ballooning in 1889. His first public ascension in 1891 abruptly ended when his balloon caught on the wiring of the newly-installed street lights of Meadville and never took off.

Alic later built a number of balloons, including one that he christened the “Meadville”. The Meadville was constructed of 576 yards of muslin, and stood 64 feet high. It had a volume of 35,000 feet, which is only half the size of a model ern sport hot-air balloon, but comparable to the gas balloons still flown in competition today.

Alic had a variety of adventures during his career as a balloonist. His grappling hook, a crude landing device employed by early balloonists, ripped a chicken coop from its foundation, as his father Samuel had earlier torn the roof off of a farmer’s kitchen. On one occasion, he flew his balloon 180 miles to a landing in the forest near Emporium, Pennsylvania and had to return home by train. On another flight, he was becalmed at night over a lake. On at least one occasion, he launched his balloon from the roof of the Market House in downtown Meadville.

Both Samuel and Alic Thurston used the title of “Professor”, a title conferred by early aeronauts on themselves to convince the public that ballooning was a scientific and learner pursuit. Their ascensions attracted thousands of spectators and were followed closely in the newspapers of the time, the notion of people flying through the air was still very newsworthy in those days.

In 1988 a group of volunteers decided to commemorate the daring feats of the Thurston’s during the Meadville Bicentennial celebration.

In Memorium: Joyce A. Stevens

Joyce Stevens Joyce Stevens started with the Thurston Classic in the first year of its existence, Meadville’s Bicentennial year of 1988. She worked with Ted Watts as a paralegal, so it was instinct for him to get his go-to employee to take over the huge job of matching up pilots and official observers. That job cascaded into more and different duties during that weekend. None of us was very sure of what we were doing in that first year but Joyce helped make it happen. She was a major reason for our success.

Since then, Joyce proved herself to be the centerpiece of the Thurston. Year after year, the Thurston has gone on without missing a beat and it was all because of Joyce. Even we on the committee did not realize how much work she poured into the Thurston and we are still trying to catch up. Sadly, she passed away in March of 2017, too quickly. It was a shock to all of us. We miss our friend and our partner.

We are continuing to honor Joyce for all of her many years being the soul of the Thurston Classic. We will never be able to replace her and all we are left with is honoring her memory annually with the Joyce Stevens Memorial Night Glow. Hopefully, somehow she will be able to see the Thurston take flight once again and hopefully she will know how much she is missed.

Thurston Classic Balloons

Please check back for when we begin to add information about our pilots and their balloons for the 2019 Thurston Classic!


Complete schedule will be available Spring 2019.

Thurston Classic Sponsors

The Thurston Classic Hot Air Event is free. There are no admission fees, no parking fees, and this event is made possible through sponsorships and your donations. We thank you for your support of the Thurston Classic Hot Air Balloon Event. Our 2019 sponsors will be recognized soon. Thank you once again to our 2018 sponsors:

Thank you to our MAJOR SPONSOR, Timbercreek Tap & Table

Timbercreek Tap and Table

Contributing Sponsors

Forever Media
JET 24/FOX 66/YourErie.com
Northwestern REC/Touchstone Energy
The Meadville Tribune
Watts and Pepicelli Law Firm

Supporting Sponsors

Allegheny College
Armstrong Cable
Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau
DJB Group, Inc.
Fine Print
Howick Motor Sales
Jeff & Jeanne Boswell
Kriner Insurance Services
Marquette Savings Bank
Meadville Medical Center
Northwest Pharmacy Solutions
Suburban Propane
Thurston Family
Victoria Soff

Patron Sponsors

Chovy’s Italian Casual
Erie Insurance, T.L. Robertson & Nicolls Agencies
Firehouse Tap & Grille
QRS Construction
Soff Family
The Market House Grille
The Movies at Meadville

Ground Grew

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #97
Griffin Motors
Mercer County State Bank
Northwest Bank
Pennco Tool & Die
Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community

Thurston Classic Committee

Ted Watts

Lynn Seiver

John Gizzie

Bill Chisholm

Tim Cooper

Chuck Tordella

Mary Ann Benacci

Kelly Carder

Cindy Thompson

Barb Ritchey

Phil Koon

Alan Clark

Tami Farrell


Remember the fun of the Thurston Classic by purchasing souvenirs of the event. Souvenir Clothing will be available in the Souvenir Tent during the morning fly-ins and evening launches. Souvenir Clothing is available in a limited supply now, at the Meadville Market House and during Thurston Classic Weekend at Robertson Field, Allegheny College.

2018 Thurston Classic Souvenirs

Unisex t-shirts: S, M, L, XL - $18.00 | 2XL - $20.00

Ladies’ t-shirts: M, L, XL - $18.00

Youth t-shirts: S, M, L, XL - $12.00

Toddler t-shirts: 2T, 3T, 4T, 5T - $12.00

Men’s polos: S, M, L, XL - $26.00 | 2XL - $28.00 | 3XL - $30.00 Ladies’ polos: S, M, L, XL - $26.00

Hats - $18.00

Mugs - $8.00

Hot air balloon ornaments - $15.00

FAQs of the Thurston Classic

    What are balloons made of?

  • The balloon bag, or envelope, is made of reinforced nylon fabric. It's very light (1.3. to 2.3 ounces per square yard), but very strong (25 to 100 pounds per square inch). Some envelopes are treated with a polyurethane coating to make them more airtight and to help the fabric withstand the ultraviolet rays that are emitted by the sun. The basket, or gondola, is made of woven wicker which is both strong and flexible. It is connected to the envelope by stainless steel or kevlar suspension cables.
  • How do balloons work?

  • Hot air rises. The envelope traps a large bubble of hot air. If the air in the envelope is heated by a burner, the balloon will rise. If the air in the envelope is allowed to cool, or if the hot air is vented from the top or side of the envelope, the balloon will descend. An altimeter is used to measure altitude and rate-of-climb. The altimeter and an envelope temperature gauge are the only instruments used in the balloon.
  • How big are balloons?

  • The most popular sport balloon is approximately 55 feet in diameter and 70 feet high - about the the same height as a seven-story building. The balloon has 1,750 square yards of nylon fabric in its envelope - about one-fifth of an acre in surface area, more than three miles of thread, and almost one-half of a mile of nylon webbing used for reinforcing. Its 77,550 cubic feet air capacity displaces almost 3 tons of air. A sport balloon can carry three or four people.
  • How are balloons inflated?

  • The balloon envelope is spread on the ground and the gondola laid on its side to be attached to the envelope cables. A portable fan pushes cold air into the envelope. When the envelope is about half inflated with outside air, a propane burner is ignited until the air inside the envelope is heated enough for the balloon to rise to an upright position. With a small amount of additional heat, the balloon becomes buoyant. Inflation takes about 20 minutes to complete.
  • How many people does it take to fly a balloon?

  • To launch and fly a balloon safely requires a minimum crew of three people plus the pilot. Crew duties typically include preparing for the launch, following (or chasing) the balloon flight in the chase vehicle, obtaining permission from the landowner for the balloon landing and retrieval, keeping spectators out of the landing area, and ensuring that the landing area is left as it is found and that nothing is damaged.
  • How much do balloon systems weigh?

  • A typical balloon system - envelope, gondola, fuel tanks, with 30 to 40 gallons of fuel - will weigh about 500 pounds when it is deflated and on the ground. In the air, the complete system, including the air inside the envelope, will weigh about 2 1/2 tons.
  • What kind of fuel do balloons use?

  • Common liquid propane gas is used to heat a hot air balloon. Some balloons carry 40 gallons of propane in two 20 gallon stainless steel tanks, while others carry three - 10 gallon tanks. Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but is highly volatile. It is carried in liquid form, under pressure in the tanks and supplied to the burners through flexible hoses. The burner flame may shoot out 6 to 8 feet in a blast which the pilot controls. A typical flight lasting 90 minutes, with three people aloft, will consume about 22 gallons of propane. Some balloons have two independent burner fuel systems for added safety.
  • How high do balloons go?

  • Flights in hot air balloons have been recorded at more that 50,000 feet. However, the sport of ballooning is most enjoyable when flying at 200 to 500 feet, just above the tree tops. When balloons fly over populated areas, they maintain an altitude of at least 1,000 feet.
  • How long can balloon stay aloft?

  • Most balloons can fly for one to two hours, depending on the outside temperature and the weight carried. On a cold day, with only one person flying, a three to four hour flight would be possible.
  • How do pilots steer the balloons?

  • They really don't. A balloon drifts in the same direction and at the same speed as the wind. The skill is for the pilot to pick the altitude that has the most desired wind direction. Surface winds and currents sometimes blow in a very different direction from the winds aloft. Altitude control is achieved with the burner. Longer burns achieve lift; shorter burns or none at all allow the air inside the envelope to cool as the balloon descends.
  • Where do balloons land?

  • Since a balloon travels with the wind, it is not possible to determine an exact landing site prior to launch. However, a pilot is able to determine the general direction of the flight through the study of wind currents.
  • Can a pilot land the balloon in water?

  • Yes. The fuel tanks are buoyant and will keep the balloon afloat. As long as the balloon is kept inflated, the pilot can take off again. A favorite trick of some balloonists is to perform a "splash and dash" touch down on water and then ascend.
  • How do you get home?

  • After the balloon is launched, the crew follows in the chase vehicle. Using maps of the area, radios, and visual contact, the crew tries to be close when the balloon lands. The crew helps the pilot deflate the balloon, disassemble and pack it up, as well as return passengers and equipment home.
  • When is the best time to fly?

  • Weather conditions for ballooning are best just after sunrise and two to three hours before sunset. Light, ideal winds of zero to 8 miles per hour often occur at these times. During the day, when the sun is high, thermals (large bubbles of hot air that rise from the sun-heated earth) make ballooning hazardous, because they are unpredictable.
  • How much does a balloon cost?

  • The average balloon costs from $20,000 to more than $40,000. This price includes the envelope, gondola, fuel tanks and instruments, but does not include any ground support equipment.
  • Can anyone pilot a balloon?

  • Balloon pilots must have an aircraft pilot's license especially for ballooning that is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is earned after taking hours of instruction from a balloon pilot instructor, passing a FAA written test, making a solo flight and passing a flight test with an FAA examiner.

Directions to the Thurston Classic

Thurston Classic Directions

Note: The launch field has been relocated for the 2018 Thurston Classic. It is a short walk from the parking area and a pedestrian path will be provided as illustrated in the map above. Spectators are encouraged to use the pedestrian path. Spectators will not be permitted on the maintenance road adjacent to the path.

For those who choose, shuttle service will be provided at 2 locations:

  1. At the entry to Robinson Field, south of the general parking area
  2. At the VIP parking lot

There is no seating in the viewing area which includes a bank (too steep for lawn chairs) and a limited lawn area. Blankets are recommended. Lawn chairs may be used on the level portions of the viewing area.

Contact Thurston Classic

916 Diamond Park, Meadville, PA 16335
Phone: 814.336.4000