Balloonatics Prepare For Thanksgiving Day Parade

With the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade less than a week away, it's crunch time for the balloon technicians. Science Friday goes behind the scenes at Macy's design studio to find out about the final preparations for the parade.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Joining me now is our multimedia editor, Flora Lichtman, with our Video Pick of the Week. And it's very seasonal, is it not?

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: Yeah. It's time to lighten up as usual with pick of the week. But this time, even more than usual. We are headed to the Macy's design studio to get a look at those balloons that they use in the parade every year.

FLATOW: How they design them.

LICHTMAN: How they design them. And actually, right now, it's crunch time for the balloonatics there. And it's - I didn't even come up - I wish I came up with that word.

FLATOW: It's a great word, great word.

LICHTMAN: They called themselves that.

FLATOW: Balloonatics.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I love it. And so they're doing sort of the final checkup on all these balloons before they go out for their big day. So we saw puff the - one of the new balloons, Julius, which is a monkey, blown up in the studio. It's really, you know, this is something that I remember watching a parade on TV, as a kid, every Thanksgiving. And so to see them now up close, they're really tremendously large.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: And I saw - while watching the Video Pick of the Week - it's up there - watching them how they blow this up and how they've test them, it's how talkative these guys are, right? The...

LICHTMAN: The balloonatics...

FLATOW: Yeah, the...

LICHTMAN: ...not the balloons? Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I know. It was a really fun visit. So they - well, they told us a few things. They shared some secrets about how they make the balloons. So the balloons are actually divided into different compartments. And one of the advantages there is that if you, you know, nick it, oops...

FLATOW: Oops.

LICHTMAN: ...the whole thing doesn't come down. You just deflate like a hand or an arm.

FLATOW: Good thing.

LICHTMAN: So that's a good idea. And then, the other thing is that the major thing for the people working on inflation is getting the skin to the right amount of smoothness - called skin stress.

FLATOW: Good. Of course.

LICHTMAN: And so there's a very technical test for that. You thump on the balloon and it makes this sort of like boing blimp sounds.

FLATOW: Like thumping a watermelon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Yeah. Exactly. Same idea.

FLATOW: Same idea.

LICHTMAN: So all the inflation people are trained to listen for that ring. So it was sort of a neat thing. But one of my favorite parts about this was talking about what it's like on the day of the parade. And just to give you a sense of what it's like, Jim Artle had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

JIM ARTLE: When the sun starts coming up and you can see the floats in all their glory and they sparkle and balloons majestically sitting under their nets. When I start to launch the balloons in the morning, I take off at a dead run with this huge grin on my face. And I don't stop until I'm all the way back down to the end of the parade landing the balloons and putting them all the way. Everyone of us is like that.

FLATOW: Jim Artle has been there for 31 years.

Wow. He's seen a lot of hot - a lot of helium.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: A lot of helium. And actually, he has a very special trick that I'm going to look for when I watch the parade this year, which is that, as we know, Charles' law says that when you heat up a gas, it expands...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...right? So as these balloons are going down the path, they're losing a little bit of helium little by little by little. So they get - by the end, there's a little bit sag here, it sounds like. So right before their glamour shot in front of the national cameras, Artle will park the balloon in between an across street. So the sun is shining down on it, which will puff it up so that it looks bright and fresh for the cameras.

FLATOW: Ready for its close up...

LICHTMAN: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: ...as they say. And it's our Video Pick of the Week. It's - see the balloonatics up there on our website, @sciencefriday.com. It's a beautiful piece, beautifully done by Flora, went out there and watch...

LICHTMAN: And Christopher Intagliata too.

FLATOW: Christopher was out there. And go to our website, @sciencefriday.com and see that video pick. That's something new to watch for on the parade.

LICHTMAN: Absolutely.

FLATOW: All right. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: That's about all the time we have for today.

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