2016 Thurston Classic

June 16-19

It's over! Champion-Paul Dale-Armstrong Cable, 2 Ken Kus-Wesbury UM, 3 Wayne Gibbons-Allegheny College.

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 modern 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.

Thurston Classic Balloons

Our Balloon Meister

Alex F. Jonard II has been involved in ballooning since 1985, when he served as a BFA observer at the Coshocton (Ohio) Balloon Races. From this, he received a ride with pilot Jeff Strine and quickly decided that he wanted to become a pilot.

Jonard earned his Private Pilot License in 1987 and Commercial Rating in 1989. He currently has over 750 hours PIC.

He competed in the U.S. Nationals in 1991 in Baton Rouge, LA., and in 1992 in Middletown, OH., as well as many races throughout Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Alex Jonard has also organized the Ashland, Ohio BalloonFest.

From 1989 to 2005, Jonard worked (as a hobby) at Falcon’s Nest Repair Station (Ohio), assisting Bob and Beverly Zanella with inspections of all manufacturers of balloons.

Ballooning is truly a family passion for Jonard and his wife, Monica, as she received her license in 1989 after beginning ballooning with her parents, Tom and Judy Huth, bought a balloon in 1974 and Judy received her pilot certificate shortly thereafter being trained by Bob and Bev Zanella. Their two sons, Alex and Nick, 19 and 17 years old, also thoroughly enjoy the sport.

“Having attended every Thurston Classic since the first one, I am thrilled to be the Event Director this year and look forward to a great weekend of flying!” ~Alex Jonard II

This Year's Balloons and Pilots

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

  • All Fired Up

    All Fired Up

    Jim Makowski

    Burton, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Soff Family

  • Blaser 1

    Blaser 1

    Rick Piendel

    Annville, Pennsylvania

    Commercial Balloon

  • Bolt


    James Cusick

    Marysville, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Meadville Medical Center

  • Celebration


    Mark Ensler

    Saginaw, Michigan

    Sponsored by: Erie Insurance Exchange - Pfeffer Insurance Group

  • CraZee


    Alex Jonard

    St. Charles, Illinois

    Sponsored by: Watts & Pepicelli, Jenna Wagner

  • DB Cooper

    DB Cooper

    Monica Jonard

    St. Charles, Illinois

    Featured at Night Glow

  • Daydreamer


    Roger Miller

    Meadville, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Suburban Energy

  • Diamond Girl

    Diamond Girl

    Ken Kus

    Chagrin Falls, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Wesbury United Methodist

  • Eclipse


    Greg Miller

    Crafton, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Forever Broadcasting and Marquette Savings Bank

  • Indecision


    Jeff Bader

    Butler, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: The Movies at Meadville

  • Legal Eagle 2ZX

    Legal Eagle 2ZX

    Ted Watts

    Meadville, Pennsylvania

    Featured at Night Glow

  • Littlest Angel

    Littlest Angel

    Rick Kohut

    Louisville, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Kriner Insurance

  • Magic Carpet II

    Magic Carpet II

    Dennis Helmuth

    Wooster, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Meadville Tribune

  • Moonlight Sunata

    Moonlight Sunata

    Janet Lutkus

    Cleveland, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Fine Print

  • Pharmacists Against Drug Abuse


    Shannon Rote

    Doylestown, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Mercer County State Bank

  • Pinwheel


    Raymond Chase

    Moscow, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: DJB Group

  • Shining Light

    Shining Light

    David Seekell

    Jackson, Michigan

    Sponsored by: Northwestern REC/Touchstone Energy

  • Shroom With A View

    Shroom With A View

    Mark MacSkimming

    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: Thurston Family

  • Silent Sea

    Silent Sea

    Gary Hughes

    Saxonburg, Pennsylvania

    Sponsored by: JET 24/FOX 66/YourErie.com and QRS Construction

  • Sky Berry

    Sky Berry

    Christopher DiMichele

    Mayfield Heights, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Ainsworth Pet Nutrition

  • Spitfire


    Paul Dale

    East Canton, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Armstrong Cable

  • Tetris


    John Moran

    Cortland, Ohio

    Sponsored by: American Water Enterprises

  • Tumbleweed


    Jeffrey Barlett

    Mentor, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Howick Motors

  • Updraft


    Mike Emich

    Akron, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Mobilcom

  • Wildfire


    Wayne Gibbons

    Stow, Ohio

    Sponsored by: Allegheny College

  • Wings Over Wicker

    Wings Over Wicker

    Benjamin Miller

    Louisville, Ohio

    Sponsored by: McGill, Power, Bell & Associates

  • 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 - Night Glow (see section below)

    Friday Night - VIP Flight: 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 - balloons will take off from a launch site of their own choosing and attempt to fly over the launch field at approximately 7:00 - 8:30 a.m., throwing a baggie at the target on the launch field. Coffee, muffins, and souvenirs will be available.

    Saturday Night - balloons will inflate and launch from the launch field at approximately 6:30 p.m. They will attempt to throw baggies at targets located at various sites. Food and souvenirs will be available.

    Sunday Morning- balloons will take off from a launch site of their own choosing and attempt to fly over the launch field at approximately 7:00 - 8:30 a.m., throwing a baggie at the target on the launch field. Coffee, muffins, and souvenirs will be available.

    Night Glow

    The Night Glow kicks off the 28th Annual Thurston Classic on June 16. It takes place on the launch field at the Robertson Sports Complex on Park Avenue Extension.

    The Night Glow is a number of tethered balloons that appear as giant illuminated lights. The balloons can only safely glow for approximately 15 minutes, and the glow is weather-dependent. The scheduled time for the glow is 9:30, but it could start before or after that time.

    There will be vendors ready to serve food by 6:30 p.m. and our souvenirs will be on sale that night

    The Four Jays Band from Erie will begin playing around 7:30 p.m.

    This event is well-attended and parking is at a premium, so it is best to come early and to bring a blanket and/or chairs. There will be a limited number of handicapped parking sites.

    Thurston Classic Sponsors

    The Thurston Classic Hot Air Event is free. There are no admission fees, there are 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 this year's sponsors:

    Contributing Sponsors

    Forever Broadcasting
    JET 24/FOX66/YourErie.com
    Northwestern REC/Touchstone Energy
    Watts and Pepicelli Law Firm

    Supporting Sponsors

    Armstrong Cable
    DJB Group, Inc.
    Fine Print
    Jenna Wagner, Web & Graphic Designer
    McGill, Power, Bell & Associates, LLP
    Meadville Medical Center
    Suburban Energy
    Thurston Family

    Patron Sponsors

    Ainsworth Pet Nutrition
    American Water Enterprises
    Erie Insurance Exchange - Pfeffer Insurance Group
    Marquette Savings Bank
    Mercer County Bank
    QRS Construction
    Soff Family
    The Movies at Meadville
    Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community

    Ground Grew

    Erie Bank
    FOP Lodge 97
    Northwest Savings Bank
    Pennco Tool & Die, Inc.

    Thurston Classic Committee

    Kelly Carder

    Bill Chisholm

    Rick Ellis

    John Gizzie

    Phil Koon

    Jim Reagles

    Lynn Seiver

    Joyce Stevens

    Cindy Thompson

    Chuck Torbella

    Rob Watson

    Ted Watts


    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.

    2016 Thurston Classic Souvenirs

    Unisex shirts, indigo Blue with front logo, S, M, L, XL: $15.00 / XXL, XXXL, XXXXL: $17.00

    Ladies’ t-shirts, carolina blue with front logo, S, M, L, XL: $17.00

    Youth shirts, lime with front logo, S, M, L, XL: $12.00

    Toddler unisex t-shirts, light blue with front logo, 2T, 3T, 4T, 5T: $12.00

    Men’s polo shirt, cool gray or teal green with breast logo, M, L, XL: $25.00 / 2XL: $27.00 / 3XL: $29.00 / 4XL: $31.00

    Ladies’ polo shirt, maui blue or melon with breast logo, S, M, L, XL: $25.00

    Youth polo shirts, lime with breast logo, S, M, L, XL: $20.00

    Garment washed hats, stone with logo: $17.00

    Baby bibs, lime with logo: $12.00

    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

    Robertson Athletic Park, 204 Park Avenue, Meadville, PA 16335

    Contact Thurston Classic

    916 Diamond Park, Meadville, PA 16335
    Phone: 814.336.4000