An Unlikely Pilot – Guy Gauthier written by Maridee Dietzel
Guy Gauthier was terrified. Being afraid of heights, he realized that taking a ride in a hot air balloon may not have been his best idea. He survived, but as he walked away, Guy declared, “I’ll never buy one of those things!”
He and his six brothers would pursue ground-level sports. However, after competing in motorcycle racing for a number of years, the siblings were looking for a new, less messy sport that they could participate in and still be clean enough to be welcome in restaurants or even in their homes. Several more refined pastimes were mentioned, such as hang gliding, sailing, speedboating, and yes, even ballooning.
That was on a Sunday evening. On Wednesday, Guy received a call from one of his brothers, telling him, “We just bought a balloon, and your part is $3000.”
Over 40 years later, Guy has enjoyed a fulfilling career in ballooning. He has been involved in every aspect of the sport—flying commercially, teaching others to fly, designing balloons, building and repairing balloons, organizing and managing balloon competitions and festivals, and competing.
“Every aspect of the sport brings joy to me, and the most important part is to give back to the sport,” Guy explains.
As he looks back over his vocation, he recalls some of his proud moments: receiving the Ed Yost Master Pilot Award and the Balloon Federation of America Director’s Award and becoming an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner and an FAA Designated Manufacturing Representative. But, Guy continues, “Besides having my share of competitive wins, I am most proud of prior students who have become national and world champions.”
Lately Guy has been enjoying piloting “Orange Crush,” a racing balloon whose pattern he personally designed. He chose orange so that his wife and the rest of his crew could spot him in the sky and then added a blend of bright and neon colors near the middle of the balloon.
He explains, “The concept of the racer shape is that the balloon is less fat and will climb and descend much faster. The actual benefit is that the smaller and lighter balloon . . . will change speed with the wind quicker due to less mass. Speed [of the balloon] is only controlled by the wind speed in which it is flying.”
Because of other responsibilities, Guy isn’t able to fly as much as he’d like, but Orange Crush allows him to enjoy the sky and the freedom of flight as well as the peaceful feeling that comes with flight.
As you might imagine from someone who has spent his life ballooning, Guy has a thrilling collection of stories and experiences. He’s flown in challenging weather, and says, “In one case, I remember sitting under the overturned basket, waiting out the downpour, and then trying to load a completely soaked envelope [the balloon] that had gained about 200 pounds [of rainwater].”
He’s been privileged to fly all over the world, whether that be over Mount Kilimanjaro, around Morocco and the Sahara Desert, the upper Midwest over lakes and crops, the Southeast over vast forested land, or our great Southwest, including the Piney Woods of Texas, the Plains, or the Hill Country. “I have never found a place that I didn’t enjoy flying,” Guy recalls.
Guy hopes to see young people become interested in ballooning.
“We need to generate excitement in the next generation and repopulate our aeronauts.”
A new competition is being started for younger pilots, along with many programs, such as balloon camps, to expose the next generation to ballooning as a sport and a family pastime. He’s looking forward to the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival to enjoy the camaraderie of his many balloon friends and the new friends he makes at every event.