The burner roars to life and inflates a nine-story-tall balloon, hoisting a basket aloft into air currents just above the treetops. Cradled in the basket alongside a Federal Aviation Administration–licensed commercial pilot, passengers look out upon panoramic views of forests and rolling open countryside. They drift along, breathing in the perfume of flowers below and catching glimpses of deer foraging for leaves, eagles rising on thermals, and foxes prowling the woods. The pilot eventually lands the balloon on firm ground and passengers are transported to the balloon port, where they pause for photo opportunities, disembark, and celebrate with a postflight complimentary champagne toast.
Whether leading visitors on regular tours of the countryside like these or undertaking large-scope marketing projects to espouse Virginia’s charms, Balloons Over Virginia, Inc. maintains a strong sense of pride for their state. For example, for several years its staff piloted the crimson-and-white "Virginia is for Lovers" balloon on low flights throughout North America. Staffers extend their aerial-navigation skills to outdoor events as well, where they slowly fly attendees up to 100 feet in the air on rope-tethered aerostats. They also head to classrooms to teach balloon-related math, science, and aviation history before taking students on a brief balloon voyage.
The CAA Men's Basketball Championship features the conference's top programs, including George Mason, James Madison, William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth, and Old Dominion, known for their fierce competition both against each other and noted national powerhouses. A once-a-year showcase of conference constituents, the CAA championship allows fans firsthand exposure to each team's peculiar brand of round ball, from George Mason's precision sharpshooters to the seamless passing of William and Mary's cybernetically enhanced hive mind. Each purchase gets you a one-session ticket good for dribbling duos of afternoon or evening contests.
Owned by school teacher and experienced fishing guide Tee Clarkson, Virginia Fishing Adventures leads reelers to prime fishing locales on the James and Rappahannock Rivers. The guides draw upon their extensive knowledge of the Richmond waterways and canoe rush hours during their guided trips that pay visits to little-known spots where smallmouth bass, sunfish, and striped bass converge. Personal lessons on fly fishing and casting are also available for youngsters and adults, as well as summer camps, after-school fishing programs, and non-fish-related mountain-biking excursions.
Elegantly lit and plushly upholstered, The Byrd Theatre looks much the same as it did on its opening day in 1928—and sounds much the same, too, thanks to its centerpiece, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. Every Saturday night, resident organist Bob Gulledge takes his seat at the orchestra-pit console and might preface the evening's second-run screening of a blockbuster film with selections from Phantom of the Opera or a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The antique pipes and bells—which occupy four rooms above the stage—roar back to life with a candy-colored sonority that triggers nostalgia and wakes up any vaudeville performers napping inside.
Since 2007, The Byrd Theatre Foundation has helped facilitate the restoration and preservation of the 1,300-seat auditorium and its organ, making sure it stays State and National Historic Landmark it is today. The Byrd Theatre supplements regular screenings with year-round events, ranging from film and comedy festivals to public-arts forums.
Steve Wendt brings nearly 40 years of experience soaring the skies to his lessons at Blue Sky Virginia Hang Gliding's flight park, where he instructs gliders of all experience levels in launch methods ranging from training-hill foot launches to towing. Through personalized instruction in classes certified by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, he hones flyers’ skills in solo and tandem hang-gliding and in piloting trikes and paragliders against elite racing pigeons. Using aero-towing, park staff members can tow pilots to heights of more than 2,000 feet, or get them airborne with platform and scooter towing.
Staff also outfit certified pilots and enthusiasts with a fleet of gliders from brands such as Aeros, Icaro 2000, Moyes, and North Wing, each made from aircraft-grade aluminum and Dacron sailcloth. In the event of regular wear and tear or run-ins with jealous paper airplanes, they can also sew sails, repair harnesses, and bend frames back into shape in a repair facility.
Sport Factory Scuba outfits underwater explorers and land-based competitors with equipment and training. PADI-certified instructors lead students on their first excursions into local pools and open water destinations, while the dive center outfits then with fins, masks, regulators, and waterproof cotton candy. Softball and baseball teams step into the mesh walls of the facility’s batting cages and pitching lanes, where they can practice their swings or test a riot shield. The onsite sportsmen's shop also carries equipment for disc golf, cornhole, and paintball.
In the four chambers of Tactical Response Unleashed's 12,500 square foot facility, students engage in tactical training sessions, shooting semi-automatic airsoft handguns and automatic rifles at moving targets in simulated scenarios. During each practice session, participants must also duck and cover to avoid pellets of return fire. By presenting students with realistic settings and precarious situations, the training sessions aim to build situational awareness and encourage the appropriate tactical response.
Dedicated to arming students with self-defense skills, the center's staff of former and active law enforcement and military professionals also lead training sessions in firearm safety and defensive tactics. They offer a special course for women, where ladies can practice self-defense tactics and techniques. Classrooms provide the setting for concealed-carry and gun-safety courses, and instructors impart weapon-retention, disarmament, and self-defense classes in a martial-arts dojang.