BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
DANVILLE — It’s that time of year once again. An opportunity to give thanks, enjoy family get-togethers and — if you live in Danville — watch rubber chickens fall from the sky.
For the 15th year, Danville is the site of the annual Les Nessman Memorial Turkey Drop, organized by the Danville Balloon Group. The event is a tribute to an episode of the 30-year-old sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” in which radio station news director Les Nessman gives a radio play-by-play of live turkeys being dropped onto a parking lot during a radio promotion.
The event is scheduled to take place at 6:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving. Hot air balloon pilots will gather at the Carlton Farm in northwest Danville.
Dean Carlton of the Ca-Zoo Hot Air Team is one of the coordinators as well as a participant. He said the event is as much good practice for the hot air balloon pilots as it is a contest.
“The contest — if there is one — is about accuracy and trying to fly and drop a turkey in the center of an X or marker,” he said. “If you can fly to a low spot and throw a turkey on it, you can land on a one-acre piece of grass if you need to.”
The rubber chickens — which are easier to find than rubber turkeys — date back to a Thanksgiving Day flight over Danville during which Carlton dropped a rubber chicken from his balloon onto some friends watching him from the ground.
Since then the holiday antics have become a good-hearted competition with the hot air balloons launching at sunrise and flying in on a large “X” and trying to hit the target. The rubber chickens are dressed in costumes, with squirrels, super heroes and even anvils among the costumes concocted for the rubber birds in past years.
The event has become popular during the years, pulling in hot air balloon pilots from as far away as Virginia and Utah. Carlton said he expected as many as 18 pilots this year from mainly central Illinois, including Mahomet, Paxton and Champaign-Urbana.
Carlton said he’s surprised — after 15 years — that the fun event still is happening.
“At this point, I don’t see it ever ending,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and everyone likes doing it. It’s unique.”
While the pilots are ready to fly, it takes cooperation from Mother Nature to make the event happen, particularly when it comes to the wind, which needs to be less than 10 mph. At this point, Carlton said the forecast “is about as good as we could expect.”
Heading into the weekend, the National Weather Service was predicting a mostly sunny day on Thanksgiving with a high near 60 degrees.
It has been four years since the pilots have had the appropriate weather conditions to have the event, Carlton said.