Master Yoda and Darth Vader will be looming over the Northwest Georgia Hot Air Balloon & Aviation Festival this year.

Organizer Jeremy Kwaterski said he’s just signed a deal with Lucasfilm to feature the Star Wars character balloons at the event set for June 28 and 29 at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport in Rome.

“We’re also bringing in a 100-foot-tall American eagle as a sort of pre-Fourth of July celebration and a big sun, which is awesome for the balloon glow,” he said. “And Snoopy.”

The “glow,” which starts when it gets dark, involves lighting the array of colorful balloons from within. It’s the highlight each night of the festival, which is partnering with the Museum of Flight this year.

“We did it on a small scale last year, but we’ve decided to have a full open house,” Museum Director Christine Lewis said. “About every hour Saturday a T-28 will go up or a C-45 will go up.”

The nonprofit based at the airport houses a collection of historical aircraft and military equipment, including Sweet Little Miss. The last of the supersonic F-14 Tomcat fighter jets was brought to Floyd County in pieces and is being reassembled at the museum.

Craft and retail vendors, food trucks and a Kid Zone with a bounce house and zip line are part of the offerings. Helicopter, airplane and tethered balloon rides also will be available for an extra fee.

Kwaterski said he’s made a number of improvements from last year, when balloonists were battling rain and winds from Hurricane Florence. There will be six balloons instead of two for the $20 rides.

“We didn’t anticipate the demand last year. Everybody who came to the festival wanted to ride,” he said. “A lot of people said ‘Bucket list. That’s on my bucket list.’ I know you don’t go anywhere, but to get up there — it’s incredible.”

Parking will be free, included in the cost of the tickets, to eliminate back-ups at the gate. And Warren Road will be closed to through traffic so shuttles can move quickly between the parking area on Lewis Road and the airport entrance.

General admission each day is $14 for adults, ages 18 and older, and $10 for children. VIP tickets and dry RV camping packages also are available through the website.

The festival runs from 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, June 28, and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 29. Depending on weather conditions, the balloons will be inflated about 5 p.m. and the balloon glow will start about 9 p.m.

Kwaterski said ticket holders on Saturday will be able to leave and re-enter the festival.

“Come out and enjoy the day,” he said. “Then go home, eat dinner and come back with your chairs and blankets to enjoy the night.”


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