Cosmic Crisp® hot air balloon floats onto Pullman campus

People gathered on a track field to see a hot air balloon shaped and decorated like a Cosmic Crisp apple.
Spectators enjoyed free apples while admiring the Cosmic Crisp® hot air balloon at WSU Pullman's Mooberry Track and Field Complex, Friday, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by WSU Photo Services.

You weren’t dreaming. That really was a 75-foot apple soaring over Washington State University’s Pullman campus.

The official Cosmic Crisp® hot air balloon visited the campus Friday morning. Custom-made to promote the WSU-bred apple, the balloon is visiting Pullman as part of a three-year international tour.

“People run up to it,” said pilot Steve Wilkinson. “Everywhere we go, it’s the balloon everybody comes to.”

The privately owned balloon landed at Mooberry Track, where visitors and passersby were invited to enjoy a free Cosmic Crisp® apple.

Now the No. 7 bestselling apple in the U.S. by volume, Cosmic Crisp® is a cross of Enterprise and Honeycrisp. It was originally bred at WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, Wash., in 1997 as WA 38 and evaluated against other contenders for more than a decade before being released to growers in 2017. This year’s harvest of Cosmic Crisp® apples will hit stores Nov. 20.

WSU owns the patent on the apple as well as the Cosmic Crisp® trademark, allowing a portion of the sale of each box to support scientific discovery at the university. WSU scientists continue to study best practices for the apple’s horticulture, harvest, and storage.

The balloon tour is part of the industry-organized and commissioned commercial marketing effort for Cosmic Crisp®. Driven from state to state, the craft follows balloon festivals that coincide with favorable weather. Since the big balloon needs plenty of space and room for a chaser van, sponsors chose a non-game-day week for the Pullman visit.

Watch a video recap of the Cosmic Crisp® balloon visiting the WSU Pullman campus.

Together with its basket, the balloon is over eight stories tall. It weighs 440 pounds, and its envelope is made from more than 1,300 yards of fabric and 14 kilometers of thread. The volume within equals about 90,000 individual Cosmic Crisp® apples. Colored like the real fruit, the balloon’s surface is decorated with 232 hand-created starlike lenticels, or pores.

Smaller than a typically sized hot air balloon due to its custom apple shape, the giant apple is easy to fly and a good racer, Wilkinson said. Flights are quiet and relaxing.

“You don’t feel the wind,” he said. “It’s calm, gentle, and beautiful; you can’t really feel forward or back, up or down. It’s like you’re standing on a cloud.”

A balloon pilot for more than 40 years, Wilkinson and his wife Cindy have shown the Cosmic Crisp® balloon at festivals in North America and Europe for the past three years. Prior to Pullman, Wilkinson flew the balloon over the apple orchards in Washington’s Lake Chelan Valley.

“The Cosmic Crisp® balloon has been a great attention-getter for this apple, our industry, and WSU,” said Kathryn Grandy, chief marketing officer for PVM, the marketing company for Cosmic Crisp®. “Steve and Cindy have been tremendous ambassadors as they crisscross the country attending festivals and grand openings. Our van and balloon are viewed by millions of consumers each year.”

After Pullman, the balloon heads south for festivals in Palm Springs, California, and Lake Havasu, Arizona.

A hot air balloon shaped and decorated like a Cosmic Crisp apple flying above the WSU Pullman campus.
The Cosmic Crisp® hot air balloon flies above the Mooberry Track and Field Complex at WSU Pullman, Friday, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by WSU Photo Services.

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