On January 1, 1991, I went for my first hot air balloon ride. I was 28 years old and working on my fixed wing private pilot certificate at the time. As you can imagine, that flight left quite an impression. Three weeks later, I had a used balloon in my garage and a $10,000 lighter bank account. My friends howled with laughter. What an incentive to start the long process of getting that valuable piece of paper and a right to my slice of the sky. A year later, I had my Commercial Certificate, granting me the ability to fly passengers for hire. That gave me the ability to share the experience of flying quietly across the sky, forward movement powered by and flying with the wind. And flying with the wind means that there is no wind in the basket in normal, level flight. It's as if the balloon is staying still and the world is scrolling by, until you pick a handful of leaves from a tree, or the basket gently settles on surface of a pond. Then, you realize, balloons are not powered by propane, or wind, but by magic. I have never returned to airplanes, although I may one day. Sure, I kind of miss them. But I don't miss the turbulence or the noise, and neither will you. I call balloons the "Manatees of the the Air". Slow, steady, passive, and always looked upon with fascination by observers. 28 years of flying balloons still holds a fascination for me. I still laugh every time I take off. You know why? Magic.
Dingbat never lies around, well maybe just occasionally! Dingbat is a little smaller than some special shape balloons. This allows him to inflate, fly or teather on a more frequent basis (weather permitting) than a larger sized special shape. Dingbat's size allows him to minimize the exposure he has to the effects of the wind. His goal is to not just showoff but to send a message to our target demographic - KIDS. Stay in school, work hard and you can fly just like Dingbat! We do this through a display of the history of ballooning, trading cards and information about what it takes to get into flying.
Charles has had this marvelous sport of ballooning in his close-knit family for over 35 years! Almost every weekend is a family get-together. So for him, ballooning is not just about going up and down, but rather a fancy way of creating a recurring family reunion. For this, he will be forever grateful!
Scott, 38, is a second generation balloon pilot in the Albany area, and owner of Above All Balloon Rides. Scott’s father, Jim, started flying balloons in 1978 in Syracuse. Scott enjoys taking passengers for balloon rides throughout the summer and at festivals throughout upstate New York. Scott mostly enjoys telling balloon jokes during the flight to make passengers feel more at ease.
Mike is a commercial hot-air balloon pilot and also holds a FAA Repairman’s Certificate working under Hudson Valley Balloon Port, which is owned and operated by his good friend, Russ Barber. Mike has been flying since 1999 and operates Catskill Mountain Balloon, Inc. with flights out of Columbia County Airport in Hudson, as well as Oneonta, Cooperstown and many festivals throughout the year. He has flown throughout New York, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Canada, and Japan. Mike takes every opportunity that Mother Nature allows to fly with the rising and setting of the sun.
Steven J. Esser
Born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Stephen Esser is a native “Pennsylvania Dutchman.” As a child Steve was always fascinated by the small plane and glider traffic in and out of the Kutztown Airport a half mile from home. His desire to learn to fly was only fulfilled when a balloonist friend convinced him to go into partnership on a new balloon and take flight training. Steve completed his flight training and was issued his Hot Air Pilots certificate in May of 1989. One year later further training earned him the Commercial Pilots rating.
Steve and his wife Lois now operate “Bloomin’ Balloon” in the Kutztown area. Their distinctive balloon, white with six tulips follows the traditional “Pennsylvania Dutch” quilt patterns. In addition to flying in their home neighborhood, they venture to various balloon festivals. They have attended festivals in three countries and eleven states. Their festival adventures have taken them to Canada and Mexico with Bloomin” Balloon. For over twenty years Steve and Lois had participated in the world largest balloon event in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
When not ballooning, Steve retired from the family’s printing business, spends his time consulting with local not for profit organizations and helping Lois around their rural home.
Jean Francois Ferland
Simba is owned by Monahan Airways. At the 28th Hudson Valley Balloon Festival Simba will be flown by Jean-Francois Ferland (JF). JF Ferland operates his own Remax Company in Saint Jean Sure Richelieu, Canada. He is known to fly some shape balloons from time to time throughout the United States and more. JF is happiest when he is with his little girls and wife which are active crew members and travel with him throughout the ballooning community!
Roger & Michele 'Shelly' own and operate Hudson Valley Balloon Adventures in East Fishkill. Roger's first ballooning experience was taking a balloon ride at the Adirondack Balloon Festival in 1983 and he then received his commercial pilot rating in 1994. Shelly got the ballooning bug very young, taking her first balloon ride when she was 10 years old, is now Crew Chief. Roger and Michele enjoy flying the majestic Hudson Valley in their balloon "Limelite" with their daughter, Erin. When they are not ballooning or fishing, Roger is a Regional Sales Manager for Puratos Corporation, a Belgian manufacturer of fine chocolates and bakery ingredients in New Jersey.
A father-and-son hot-air balloon team from Binghamton, N.Y., Joel & David are pilots of “Mystical Breeze” and attend many balloon festivals in the United States and Canada. Dave Berka has been flying since 1979 and has trained many pilots, including his son.
Ken flies the world's largest Tuxedo at hot-air balloon festivals throughout the northeast, Canada, and central New Jersey. He is a member of the Balloon Federation of America, the Great Eastern Balloon Association, and has been the recipient of GEBA's Ted Torok Award for Sportsmanship in Ballooning, as well as being Number One in competition in 2006. Not 'SirPrizingly,' Ken's crew includes his wife, Janet, their kids, Adam and Katie, and their Crew-Chief-Chef, Vince Downey. Many other family and friends (including John, Rosey, Courtney, Patty, David, Linda, Scott, Cynthia, Karen, Mark, many others) are also part of the "Sir Prize!" Team (and of course, Ann, Carl, & Vickie are always with us, too!) helping to share the uplifting experience of ballooning with all.
Todd’s infectious enthusiasm for the sport of ballooning took shape as a youngster, chasing down balloons on his bike during the early years of the Adirondack Balloon Festival. A few years after graduating from SUNY Oswego, he decided to pursue his ballooning dreams and began SunKiss Ballooning. His principal training took place in Albuquerque, NM, site of the world’s largest balloon festival. His team understands the importance of ongoing training and professional development. He’s also in constant contact with pilots around the world about the latest in balloon technology, safety concerns, and more. He’s worked with professional pilots in teaching safety seminars approved by the FAA. He’s eager to share his love of ballooning by providing a safe, exciting, captivating, and memorable ballooning experience for you!
Brian Smith is the lead pilot for Hover Girl balloon team which is based in Poughkeepsie, NY. Brian has been piloting his own balloon since 2000 and involved in ballooning since the 1970s as crew for his dad Tom Smith. Tom has been a pilot since the early 1970’s and he is and one of the original founders of the Dutchess County Balloon Festival.Brian has flown in three different countries and many different states. Hover Girl can be seen flying locally in Dutchess County region all year. Stop by and say hi!
Lee's father, Carroll, started his aviation career as a Naval Aviator, flying P-3s during Vietnam. Leaving the Navy, he operated a small airport, giving airplane flight instruction, with ballooning as a sideline. Since 1978, he has been a full-time balloonist. He has taught Balloon Pilot Ground Schools and given balloon assembly programs at public schools in nearly every state in the USA. A couple of years ago, he passed 4,000 hours of balloon flight time. His primary activity in ballooning, now, is conducting the balloon promotional programs for RE/MAX of New York. Carroll says the most rewarding part of his balloon experience is sharing ballooning with his children, Lance, Lisa, Liana and Lee, and, since Lance’s son, Jacob, is taking flying lessons, they are a three-generation balloon family.
John has been flying balloons since 1993. When asked why he got into ballooning he always responds, “I’ve been trying to get off this planet all my life.” John's wife, Kate, is his regular crew chief. When not ballooning, John works with the Macy’s Parade Studio designing and producing floats, props, costumes and giant inflatables for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He has worked on 36 parades and has taken his 'helium friends' all around the country and as far away as London, Tokyo, and Doha.
The Roamin’ Candle Balloon Team is comprised of family and friends of all ages and has truly made ballooning a team sport. Their favorite part of ballooning is introducing the sport to newcomers and sharing in the excitement of lighter-than-air flight. Peter and Jennifer Turoff have been flying Roamin’ Candle since 1995. They live in LaGrangeville. A former skydiver of 15 years with 501 jumps, Peter loves the exhilaration of being airborne and shares his passion for flying with his family.
Dwight is a resident of Munnsville, N.Y., and the pilot of “Paradise Island” balloon. Cramer's fascination with flying began in childhood; he went on his first balloon ride in 1992 and earned his commercial certificate in 1999. Cramer is well known for providing balloon rides over his hometown area and enjoys participating in balloon festivals throughout the northeast.
Bob has been flying balloons since 1981. He is also a fixed wing pilot and he has a gas balloon rating. He has flown in many countries including Canada, France, Germany, Newfoundland, Mexico, and in many states. He has over 1700 hours in a balloon. He and his wife are looking forward to flying in the Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival.
Rich is a Poughkeepsie resident and pilots “Rainbow with a View.” Along with his wife, Lori, and daughters, Sarah and Brittany, Rich has been involved in ballooning ever since he purchased a balloon ride for his wife's birthday many years ago. Since then, the family has attended festivals around the country and crewed for anyone who needed help. He holds a commercial pilot’s license and operates Adventure with Altitude Ballooning, LLC, in the Poughkeepsie area.
Kim first tried her hand as a Balloon Chase Crew member and becoming the pilot of her own balloon quickly became her next goal. Passing the final check-ride and holding her Commercial Pilot's License was worth the hard work involved. Sharing the joys of Ballooning continues to be a great reward for Kim. She wishes to send a special thank you to her Ballooning family, "You are the Chosen Few."
Mark Schilling, a resident of Cambridge Vermont, has been a commercial balloon pilot for over 30 years, flying conventional balloons, hot air airships, special shapes and experimental aircraft. His current area of expertise is special shapes, which he has piloted in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Japan. Mark especially enjoys winter flying, splash and dash landings, dawn patrol flights, and his homebuilt Cloudhopper. You can visit his website at www.vtballoons.com
Alan Jones has been flying balloon since 1980. He’s flown all over the world with the Old McDonald Farm balloon. But Alan's most memorable flight is flying over the opening ceremonies of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.