Fuquay-Varina, N.C. — The 2017 WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest not only focuses on hot air balloons. It also highlights the men and women who fly them.
Each year the festival has "meet and greets" where people can talk to the pilots and check out the equipment.
WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest: Full schedule of events
Veteran pilot Patrick Grogan has been flying hot air balloons since 1993. He said there is deep meaning in mingling with kids at the Memorial Day weekend event.
A chance meeting with a balloon pilot is what sparked Grogan's interest in flying.
"The pilot came across the house one afternoon, while I was playing with the dog. I chased him down and helped him back up," Grogan said.
"That's how I ended up getting my certificate and worked with him for 20 years," he said.
Grogan now flies his own balloon named "Don't Worry."
Meeting and greeting fans at the festival is how he pays forward the pilot's kindness more than 20 years ago.
"Most of these people have never been up close to a balloon, so it's fun to see them come up and see what it's like," Grogan said.
Another pilot "meet and greet" is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Fuquay-Varina.