2018 Thurston Classic

June 14-17

New Launch Site! Details below.
30th Annual Thurston Classic Presented by TimberCreek Tap and Table

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

Our Balloonmeister, Maury Sullivan

Maury’s interest in ballooning dates to 1981 and has included sport and competitive ballooning as well as running a commercial balloon contract. Maury initiated the establishment of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival Enshrinement Balloon Classic in 1986, served as the event chairman from 1986 to 1988 and served as the event’s Competition Director in all but four years. Maury has a commercial rating and has logged more than 850 hours.

Crewing at four US Nationals and participating in all US Teams events as an official competitor have fostered Maury’s interest in the competitive aspects of hot air ballooning. Maury and his teammates placed third in the 1999 US Teams and Maury was recognized as Rookie of the Year at the 2000 NABA US Nationals in Canton, Mississippi. During his active competitive career, Maury was a consistent top twenty pilot in the NABA National Ranking system ranking 12th (2005); 21 st (2003); 8th (2002); and, achieving his highest ranking of 2nd in 2001. Maury was selected by the BFA’s Hot Air Competition Division to serve as the Event Director for the 2009, 2010,2016 and 2017 US National Hot Air Balloon Championships.

While Maury has found competitive flying both instructional and rewarding, he still finds his fondest balloon memories in “Fiesta-type” flying. He flew in the first balloon event in the Soviet Union in 1990, which took place in Leningrad (S1. Petersburg), USSR. On one memorable flight, he flew his balloon “Glasnost” less than 500 feet over a Soviet Mig air base and, yes, has photos. Not far behind in the most memorable flights category was flying from Canada to the US while seemingly skimming directly over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. In February 2005 Maury participated in the NOBPA winter Long Jump. This is a flight designed to challenge the pilot and crew in a long-distance flight. This was Maury’s first real attempt at such a flight and he flew a total of 178 miles in a flight lasting three hours and forty-eight minutes.

Eclipsing his travels to the USSR and flying over Niagara Falls was his life-altering experience of traveling to Tibet and spending two weeks with the Dalai Lahma. Maury and the Dalai became best of friends and, in exchange for a balloon ride, the Dali bestowed one of life’s greatest treasurers on Maury - he was promised “total consciousness” on his deathbed. Maury and his wife have been heavily involved in organizing and officiating at several balloon events annually over the past ten years. He has served as chairman of the BFA and Holiday Balloon Fest joint planning committee for the 2012 World Hot Air Balloon Championship.

Maury has been involved with the Northeast Ohio Balloon Pilot’s Association (NOBPA) since 1982 and served as its Treasurer in 1997 and 1998 and as its President in 2000. Maury and Lynn served as chairmen of NOBPA’s annual Safety Seminar, Balloonowledge from 2002-2004 and Maury has organized the educational programming for the 2008 BFA National Convention.

Through his long friendship with Bob Zanella and Ted Watts, Maury has been involved with the Thurston Classic since its inception. With the passing of Bob in 2010, Maury was proud to take over for his mentor and serve as Balloonmeister for the Thurston Classic for all years since 2010 with the exception for 2016 when his oldest daughter was married that weekend. Maury and Lynn missed the Classic but said it was an easy choice.

This Year's Balloons and Pilots

Please note: The Thurston Classic does not offer ANY balloon rides—free or paid!

  • Astro Racer

    Astro Racer

    Pilot: Andrew Nels

    Smyrna, Georgia

    Sponsored by: Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Blaser 1

    Blaser 1

    Pilot: Richard Piendel

    Annville, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Marquette Savings Bank

  • Breaking Wind

    Breaking Wind

    Pilot: Paul Dale

    Alliance, Ohio

  • Celebration


    Pilot: Mark Enszer

    Saginaw, Michigan

    Sponsored by: Chovy’s Italian Casual and ERIEBANK

  • Daydreamer


    Pilot: Roger Miller

    Meadville, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Suburban Propane

  • Diamond Girl

    Diamond Girl

    Pilot: Ken Kus

    Chagrin Falls, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Forever Media

  • Eclipse


    Pilot: Greg Miller

    Grafton, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Mobilcom

  • Goodnight Gracie

    Goodnight Gracie

    Pilot: Janet Lutkus

    Medina, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Meadville Medical Center

  • Heartburn


    Pilot: Drew Egerton

    Statesville, North Carolina

    Sponsored by: Jeff & Jeanne Boswell

  • Indecision


    Pilot: Jeff Bader

    Butler, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Fine Print Commercial Printers

  • Legal Eagle 2ZX

    Legal Eagle 2ZX

    Pilot: Ted Watts

    Meadville, Pennsylvania

    Appearing at the Thursday Joyce Stevens’ Memorial Night Glow

  • Littlest Angel

    Littlest Angel

    Pilot: Bed Miller

    Ravenna, Ohio

    Sponsored by: J.M. SMUCKER COMPANY

  • Mountain Momma II

    Mountain Momma II

    Pilot: Chris Christopher

    Morgantown, West Virginia

    Sponsored by: DJB Group, Inc.

  • Movin' Magic

    Movin' Magic

    Pilot: Mark MacSkimming

    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Thurston Family

  • Peg Leg Pete

    Peg Leg Pete

    Pilot: Dave Reineke

    Mahomet, Illinois

    Sponsored by TimberCreek Tap & Table

  • P.A.D.A: Pharmacists Against Drug Abuse

    Pharmacists Against Drug Abuse

    Pilot: Shannon Rote

    Doylestown, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Market House Grille

  • RE/MAX


    Pilot: John Moran

    Cortland, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Movies at Meadville And Firehouse Tap & Grille

  • Rosie


    Pilot: Wayne Fortney

    Kingsport, Tennesse

    Sponsored by: Howick Motors

  • Serenity


    Pilot: Richard Hughes

    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Kriner Insurance Group

  • Shining Light

    Shining Light

    Pilot: David Seekell

    Jackson, Michigan

    Sponsored by: JET24/FOX66/YourErie.com

  • Silent Sea

    Silent Sea

    Pilot: Gary Hughes

    Saxonburg, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: The Meadville Tribune

  • Sky Berry

    Sky Berry

    Pilot: Christopher DiMichele

    Mayfield Heights, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Northwest Pharmacy Solutions

  • Time Flies

    Time Flies

    Pilot: Al Nels

    Beavercreek, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Armstrong Cable

  • Tumbleweed


    Pilot: Jeffrey Barlett

    Mentor, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Northwestern REC/Touchstone Energy

  • Updraft


    Pilot: Mike Emich

    Akron, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Watts & Pepicelli PC

  • Wildfire


    Pilot: Wayne Gibbons

    Stow, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Erie Insurance, T.L. Robertson & Nicolls Agencies and QRS Construction

  • Zee-nith


    Pilot: Alex Jonard

    Sycamore, Illinois

    Sponsored by: The Soff Family

  • Zig Zag

    Zig Zag

    Pilot: Beth Davidson

    Canton, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Allegheny College

  • Schedule

    General Information

    All balloon flights are scheduled weather permitting. Please check back on our website for timely updates.

    The Thurston Classic is open to the public - FREE of charge. THERE ARE NO RIDES OFFERED AT THE THURSTON CLASSIC!

    Donations are appreciated and needed for this event to continue. Allegheny College’s Robertson Field is a NON-SMOKING area. Please do not smoke on the property.

    Schedule of Events

    Thursday, June 14: The Joyce Stevens Memorial Night Glow (see section below)

    Friday Night, June 15, Timbercreek Tap & Table Hare & Hound Task, 6:30 p.m.: The VIP Flight will begin at approximately 6:15 p.m. All balloons will inflate on the launch field and follow a balloon designated the “Hare” to a target that the hare decides upon. They will then attempt to throw a baggie on the target. Food and souvenirs will be available.


    Saturday Morning, June 16, Sanctioned Race #1, 7:00-8:30 a.m.: This race will begin with balloons taking off from a launch site of their own choosing and attempt to fly over the launch field, throwing a baggie at the target on the launch field.

    Saturday Night, June 16, Sanctioned Race #2, 6:30 p.m.: This race will begin with balloons inflating and launching before attempting to throw baggies at targets located at various sites. Food and souvenirs will be available.

    Sunday Morning, June 17, Sanctioned Race #3, 7:00 - 8:30 a.m: This race will begin with balloons taking off from a launch site of their own choosing and attempting to fly over the launch field while throwing a baggie at the target on the launch field.

    Night Glow

    Thursday, June 14, 2018: JOYCE STEVENS’ MEMORIAL NIGHT GLOW

    The Joyce Stevens Memorial Night glow will begin at approximately 9:00 pm at our new site at Allegheny College Robertson Athletic Complex (204 Park Avenue, Meadville). Lawn seating and shuttle service will be available and limited handicapped area for parking/viewing will be provided.

    Balloons are inflated, tethered and appear as giant illuminated light bulbs against the evening sky. Food and drinks available. Official souvenirs on sale. Donations accepted. Shuttle service available to new site.

    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.

    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 Bank
    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