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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Fabled hot air balloon Air Bully should return to Starkville skies

Joshua Britt | The Reflector

Air Bully, arguably this green Earth’s greatest gift to the blue skies above, was a maroon and white hot air balloon with the words “AIR BULLY” and the iconic Walking Bully logo emblazoned on a front panel.

I am openly advocating for the immediate return of what may be the most obscure and forgotten aspect of Mississippi State University from the mid 90’s, and by the end of my advocacy, you will find yourself outside in the middle of a field staring longingly at the sky wishing for the return of Starkville’s forgotten aircraft.

Air Bully first took flight April 25, 1992, just a few short months after Mississippi Valley Gas Company’s then-manager Walter Bishop pitched the idea to MSU’s then-President Donald Zacharias in an August 1991 Starkville Rotary Club meeting.

Balloon enthusiasts and the generally curious could purchase Air Bully charter memberships, a package limited to only 2,500 members that included a charter member certificate, an Air Bully lapel pin and a tether ride on Air Bully. Proceeds from Air Bully charter memberships went to the MSU scholarship fund.

The balloon flew high above the many MSU home sporting events as well as several Starkville community events for an uninterrupted span of three years – that is, until disaster struck in 1995.

The news section of the 1995 edition of MSU’s late student yearbook “Reveille” – a section credited with special thanks to The Reflector – states that due to a lack of funds, “Air Bully was grounded indefinitely at the beginning of the year. The hot air balloon served as a goodwill ambassador for the university, appearing at balloon races, air shows and special events across the region.”

The 1995 edition of “Reveille” also states that the 1995 Panhellenic Council was tasked with selling raffle tickets to raise money for Air Bully. I ask you, 1995 Panhellenic Council, what happened? Did you try your best, or are you to blame for the empty skies over Davis Wade Stadium?
Luckily for the 1995 Panhellenic Council, archived MSU Newsroom articles directly mention the return of Air Bully for the 1997 MSU Homecoming festivities. After October 1997, the history books are silent.

Weighing in at 725 pounds and standing at a massive 76 feet tall, this close rival to Air Force One is the exact piece of the puzzle that Mississippi State’s sporting events have been missing. Imagine sitting in Davis Wade Stadium and watching MSU’s beloved mascot Bully lowering from the sky, firmly stood in the passenger compartment basket of Air Bully. Imagine kicking back in Dudy Noble Field’s Left Field Lounge and looking up to see Air Bully directly overhead. I could not imagine anything that would instill a greater sense of pride and school spirit.

According to Seattle Ballooning, the cost of a commercial hot air balloon is in the range of $95,000 to $105,000. Air Bully ran on 30-45 gallons of propane, which means that the most expensive flight would be $123.30 worth of propane according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s estimate of an average $2.74 price per gallon in Mississippi.

By charging for a revamped Air Bully charter membership and offering the exclusive opportunity to watch MSU home sporting events from Air Bully, I believe these costs could be recovered over time.

Another concern that naturally comes with a 76-foot hot air balloon is the task of storage. However, the solution is simple. The 1992 edition of “Reveille” states that Air Bully was stored in a 14-foot fiberglass trailer with a large Dr. Pepper logo on the side. I have seen more 14-foot trailers on this campus than any one person, organization or institution should ever need. Seriously, look behind every building on this campus and you will find a handful.

I credit the ’90s as being my favorite period in the history of Mississippi State Athletics. It is no surprise that a concept as incredible as Air Bully came from the same era as classic Nike MSU threads and the glorious interlocking MSU logo. With this year’s homecoming festivities being themed around the 90s at MSU, the time has never been more right to reunite Air Bully and the Starkville skies.

Zac Selmon, and just about everyone else working at Mississippi State Athletics, hear my cries. There is a noticeable lack of maroon and white in the clouds, and I am counting on you to bring Air Bully back.

About the Contributor
Joshua Britt
Joshua Britt, Former Editor-in-Chief
Joshua Britt served as Editor-in-Chief of The Reflector from 2023 to 2024. Joshua also served as the Online Editor from 2020 to 2023.
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