Hot air balloon pilots took to the fall skies Friday morning over Longview, kicking off a weekend of flying balloons in support of frontline workers.

“We wanted to fly because we all have pent-up frustration,” longtime Longview pilot Bill Bussey said. “We haven’t been flying lately because of this COVID-19, and we wanted to lift up the spirit.”

The balloon baskets have banners reading “Lifting Spirits Around the World.”

Pilots gathered at Balloon Adventures USA in Longview to talk and enjoy each other’s company after the morning’s flight.

“We always have a good time when we get together,” Bussey said.

Lifting Spirits Around the World is a coordinated balloon launch Saturday and Sunday — weather permitting — in cities across the United States and in several countries around the world.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta organizers started the idea for grassroots flights after the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Great Texas Balloon Race was also canceled this year.

“So, they asked all of us around the world, because that’s a worldwide thing, to do what we’re doing in honor of the people,” said Bussey, who started the Great Texas Balloon Race in Longview in 1978.

Launches are planned in about 33 states and 15 countries to support the frontline workers through COVID-19.

“We truly thank them for the efforts and the hard work they’ve done, helping us out through this,” Bussey said. “Everyone, little 2-year-olds to 92-year-old grandmother, love seeing the balloons.”

The flights Friday included 14 balloons, starting from George Richey Road and flying Southwest. The balloonists and Balloonmeister Richard Sabin, also held a little friendly competition with skills-based, precision flying activities.

There will be about 22 balloons flying over the weekend, Bussey said, and they’ve come from Houston, Waco, Dallas, Memphis, Iowa and other places.

Launch sites for the flights will vary depending on the wind direction and speeds, but local flights will be over Longview. Balloons will likely be getting into the air at about 7:30 a.m.