INDIANOLA, Iowa — In one day, hot air balloons will dot the metro sky as the National Balloon Classic returns to Indianola.
This year, another hot air balloon competition is happening at the same time — the U.S. Women's National Championship.
Staci Scheurenbrand, the executive director of the National Balloon Classic, said this is the first year they are hosting the women's competition in conjunction with theirs.
She said pilots participating in both competitions will fly at the same time, complete the same tasks of dropping objects from their air balloons to hit targets below and be scored by the same judges.
Kelli Keller, the 2021 U.S. Women's National Champion, said she's excited to compete in two events against the best of the best.
"They will score the women separate, but we'll also be scored with the classics," Keller said. "So we will be a part of the classic and we will have our places in the classic, so we could actually win the classic and win U.S. Women's."
Keller is one of 14 women in the U.S. Women's National Classic. Last year, only six were part of the event, according to Scheurenbrand.
Gary Ruble, a pilot who has flown in the National Balloon Classic for decades, said he's proud to know both competitions are happening at the same time because he remembers when there were barely any women piloting balloons.
"There's a lot more women pilots now than there were back in the day…I remember probably two or three," Ruble said.
For Keller, the most exciting part about the nine-day event is that she and other women get to show off their skills.
"I mean look at us," Keller said. "We get to have our own spotlight in ballooning and that's very, very nice."
Keller hopes to come away with the U.S. women's title again this year, but is uncertain where she'll place in the National Balloon Classic.
Both competitions run from July 29-Aug. 6.
Tickets for the event can be found here.