Pilot Josh Goll and “Star Stepper” are among the 50 hot air balloons and pilots that came to the 2018 InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. Even though they loaded up and made the trip with his family, the Festival was cancelled due to flooding. We’d like to show you his beautiful balloon and share his story.
Let’s reflect back to to 2017 and his first time on the Festival field as a pilot. It is quiet on a Sunday morning. The air is still, and the only sound is the intermittent hiss of a propane burner. The number 16 balloon, Star Stepper, glides southwest over the launch field toward a target spray painted on the grass. The pilot, Josh Goll, gets within feet of the giant red X marking the spot. He tosses a bean bag at the target, and the watching crowd break the silence to cheer his win. Goll expertly piloted his balloon so close to the target at the Festival Fly-In Competition that a spectator might forget the breeze is in control of its direction.
We’ve given away tickets and parking passes over the years. In fact, there have been a lot of giveaways of t-shirts, posters, and festival items. This contest is for a private ride in a hot air balloon with a pilot here in Plano the week of the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival at Oak Point Park. We’re not talking about a tethered ride where you hover above the ground and descend within minutes. It’s a bucket list experience to lift-off and fly in a majestic invention that doesn’t have a steering wheel, motor or wheels. A truly unforgettable adventure that ends with a champagne toast and a prayer.
THE BALLOONIST’S PRAYER
“May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter And sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”
The contest began last month and ends on Monday, September 17 at 8:00 p.m. CST. The date of the flight will be determined by the pilot but scheduled to take place between September 19-23 depending of course, on the weather. Must be 18 years or older to enter the Hootsuite based campaign that will randomly select the winner to be contacted and announced on Facebook and social media channels. The terms and conditions are detailed within the contest form. Are you ready to take flight?
In 1998, a hot air balloon came to rest on a quiet street in Murphy, TX. Trevor Laswell was only seven years old and this captured his attention. He expressed his interest in wanting to get involved with ballooning to the pilot, who referred him to crew training at the Plano balloon festival. That same year, Laswell took his first ride in a balloon with Suzanne and Don Smith in their balloon Hours Stars. Laswell’s father, Steve Laswell, was the festival’s volunteer coordinator at the time helped get the young Laswell involved.
Have you ever wanted to learn more about hot air balloons? We are recruiting folks to help crew for pilots for the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival the weekend of September 21-23, 2018. Volunteers will learn to help with setting up, inflating, launching, and packing up the hot air balloons after a flight during regularly scheduled balloon activities at the festival. There are two flights a day and the morning crew meets at 6:00 a.m. and finishes around 10:00 a.m. The evening crew begins at 4:00 p.m. and finish by 8:00 p.m. Breakfast is provided for the morning shift and dinner is provided after the evening shift.
Hands-on training is scheduled for 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 15 at Oak Point Park in Plano, Texas. In the event of rain, the training session will take place on the following day, September 16 at the same location.
Hello, my name is Steve Laswell and I am the Volunteer Crew Coordinator for the 2017 InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. I would like to share with you and your group of some volunteer opportunities for the Plano Balloon Festival. We are recruiting folks to help crew for a Hot Air Balloon Pilot for our Festival on September 22, 23, and 24, 2017.
The Petrehn family name has been, for many decades, connected with ballooning and John Petrehn recalls, “My first flight in a hot air balloon was when I was just a couple of years old and could not event see over the side of the basket. My father was the pilot.”
John became an FAA licensed balloon pilot at the age of only 16 and is currently the #4 ranked pilot in the world. “Ballooning is my full time job, profession, career, hobby, and obsession,” explains the owner of Magniflight hot air balloon company based in Houston.
Among his more than 50 awards, John won the 2006 World Hot Air Balloon Championship held in Tochigi, Japan and again in 2010. The 19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship took place in Debrecen, Hungary and John was among top competitors from five continents and 33 countries.
Although John and his highly experienced chase crew typically log 100 flights a year, this will be their first time launching Bimbo® bear here in Plano, the Hot Air Balloon Capital of Texas. “It is a magical feeling when you lift off, especially in the beautiful Bimbo® bear balloon. The crowd loves the special shape and always send us off with a loud cheer,” states the pilot.
Bimbo® bear is a brand new special shape hot air balloon, representing the Bimbo Bakeries USA company and Bimbo® brand sweet baked goods, which
is headquartered in Horsham, Pennsylvania. Standing 105 feet tall, the Bimbo® bear is 78 feet wide and weighs nearly 600 pounds.
The Dolphin balloon owner Jason Myers is participating as a pilot for only the second time at the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. Jason has volunteered as a crew member for other pilots for more than 10 years and currently resides in McKinney, Texas. Last year Jason won 4th place in the Plano Balloon fly-in competition and was one of 40 balloons to set a World Record at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium for the “Most Hot Air Balloons Inflated Indoors.”
“My first flight in a hot air balloon was September 12, 1981 when my Aunt Gayle flew my Dad and I from Silver Springs Park in Stow to Brimfield in Ohio. It got me hooked with a love for aviation and sport of ballooning,” recalls Jason Myers. “In the pilot logbook under ‘Nature of Flight’ my Aunt Gayle simply wrote, ‘Fun.’ I recorded ‘coolest thing ever done’ in my mental logbook.”
According to Jason, The Dolphin is a “she” balloon because female dolphins are lighter than males, and in ballooning, the lighter the better. Manufactured by Avian, The Dolphin is 60,000 cubic feet and a Falcon II. The two dolphins swimming around were hand sewn onto the balloon in the basement of a church by friends and family. There are more than 400 round “water bubbles” that his Aunt Gayle meticulously positioned and the light blue, green, yellow, and dark blue colors represent the ocean, land, sun and sky.
“I started flying and taking lessons when I was 16 years old. I flew as a student pilot for many years and finally completed my Private Pilot’s license for Lighter than Air (LTA) classification in 2013.”
Jason adheres to a strict 3-Strike Rule explaining that if that many things go wrong before a flight then it’s best to stop the negative pattern before getting in the air and not fly at all.
On the flip side, hot air balloon newbies, upon completion of their first flight, receive the traditional glass of champagne (or sparkling cider) and Balloonist’s Prayer recited as the toast. Concealed in The Dolphin basket, Jason always carries a sentimental memento of his Aunt Gayle, who lost a battle to cancer in 2001.
“I get a rush of excitement every time I lift off. The feeling of leaving the ground and becoming airborne is a rush that continues with every flight.”
Sharing a love of ballooning with the community is what Jason believes is the best part about the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. He enjoys answering questions about the balloon and the look in the eyes of children when they come up to the basket, watch the glow of the burners, and feel the heat.
“There’s something magical about the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival because of the excitement and energy that it brings to people as they watch the balloons inflate, stand up, and lift-off into the sky,” explains Jason Myers.
Jason regularly drives The Dolphin to nearby fields within Collin County and logged approximately 30 flights in 2015. He also owns and flies a larger Cameron balloon, that is 105,000 cubic feet, the “A.M. Sunrise” named for his daughter Abigayle Marie. Outside of ballooning Jason is a Product Specialty Manager at Great Southern Wood that manufactures treated lumber and distributes construction material.
This summer The Dolphin inflated at Oak Point Park and below is a live video in real-time of Jason Myers and his balloon. Make plans to see The Dolphin swimming on the field September 23-25, 2016 at the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival www.planoballoonfest.org.
From the moment Joe and Sue Calabrette first saw a hot air balloon flying over the Dallas skyline in 1979, they were hooked. Living in Plano at the time, Joe bought a flight for Sue as a birthday present.
Upon arrival at the field, Joe realized the flight was for two people, and they both hopped aboard. Their first flight lasted two hours and flew them from Mesquite to Duncanville, over dozens of fields and several airports. Not long after, Joe began training for his pilot’s license with the owner of the balloon. He became a commercial pilot in order to train his wife and take others up in their first balloon, the Big Red.
They have had three balloons since they began flying, all red balloons with blue accents. Their newest balloon, Big Red Again, is a combination of the first two designs and names. Three is an impressively low number of balloons for how often they fly, which they attribute to the tremendous care of each hot air balloon.
Not long after becoming balloonists, Joe and Sue helped start the Plano Ballooning Association. They have been a part of the Plano Balloon Festival since its inception, acting as liaisons to the ballooning club. They acted as the co-chairmen for the second Plano Balloon Festival in 1981 and have served as the Balloonmeister several times. The Balloonmeister is the unofficial captain of any ballooning event, overseeing the other balloonists and ensuring their safety. They have the final say in whether the balloons can fly. For example, if this year’s Festival is too windy or the conditions are poor for flying or landing, the Balloonmeister may delay the launch to ensure the safety of the pilots and crew.
In 1996 Joe and Sue moved to California, taking their balloon with them. Unlike Texas, Californian balloonists can only fly in the morning, before the winds get too high. Generally, balloonists avoid flying in wind speeds of over 7 mph.
One of their most harrowing flying experiences took place in Morgan Hill, California. Joe had gone up with a family friend and her elderly aunt. They were already up in the air when Tule Fog, ground fog mostly seen in California’s Great Central Valley, gathered underneath them. The fog was so dense they could see the reflection of their balloon in the fog below, and nothing of the ground.
Unable to see where to land, Joe descended slowly, looking for trees and other obstacles. He finally found the parking lot of the reservoir, where he was able to land on the steep hill surrounding the area. The family friend jumped out and tied the balloon to a nearby boulder before the balloon could take off again. When Sue and the rest of their ground crew found them, they were tied to the rock and being blown in the wind.
They have returned to Plano in recent years and have continued to attend the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival, missing fewer than five since its inception. While they no longer fly people commercially, they enjoy flying both locally and nationally and can often be seen over the Plano skyline in their gorgeous red balloon.
Guest contributor Ali Weiss, local freelance writer.
If you ever receive a balloonist’s card, keep it. Just like baseball or Pokemon cards, a balloonist’s card is an important symbol of who they’ve met over the years while traveling. Richard, owner of the Golden High Balloon, has countless cards from people he’s met around the world.
Richard began flying as a small plane pilot. Upon receiving his pilot’s license, he would fly to New York City with dates. He loved the freedom of flying, but being a pilot is also incredibly restrictive, from filing flight plans to no drinking.
In 1989, he was introduced to hot air balloons through Re/Max, where he worked in Augusta, Georgia. “The first flight is free, the next one is $30,000.”
He bought his first hot air balloon from Re/Max and now owns his third balloon. Golden High is a custom designed balloon, which means he went to the manufacturer to choose the size, the color each fabric panel color and design from the basket up to the parachute valve.
“I’ve flown over 900 hours, including Italy, Yugoslavia, and across the United States,” says the pilot.
Near to his Dallas home, Golden High participates in his favorite event, the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. A lover of small festivals as well as large, Richard enjoys the all weekend event as much as the rest of us. His first experience, when he moved here in 2010, also introduced him to his crew, who were volunteers. Now, he and his crew are close friends; they travel with him to many of his events.
On the day of the festival, Richard and his team will wake up while we’re still counting sheep and head out to the field to fuel up. Then lay out the balloon and inflate it with a fan before heating the air with the burner just in time for takeoff after sunrise.
Once they’re up in the air, the wind will take them until they can find a place to land. Landing is a bit of skill and a lot of luck since the balloon has no way to steer. Before they launch, they study the wind patterns and plot out several options for landing.
Even with all their planning, landing is a game of chance. They try to avoid landing on private property, so they aim for public land or parks, which aren’t always massive open areas designed for a large hot air balloon to land.
Once safely on the ground, they embrace the 200-year old tradition of the Balloonist’s Prayer, and of course, champagne. They’ll then refuel and return to the festival for the evening launch before regrouping for the hot air balloon glow at sunset.
Golden High, Richard, and his crew will be on the field among the many hot air balloons September 23-25, 2016 at the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival. Admission is only $5 and the full schedule of activities available on the website: www.planoballoonfest.org.
“Safety first” has always been my motto as an overprotective mother of two. In addition to being a neurotic mother, I am also afraid of heights, so the thought of being miles above the ground in a hot air balloon was a little terrifying. However, my sense of adventure prevailed through the research for this blog.
I got up bright and early on a recent Saturday morning to be part of a volunteer crew training session with some of the pilots and their balloons. It was a beautiful sunrise at Oak Point Park with not a bit of wind, or so I thought. Keith Berry, pilot of “Highly Cool”, said they wouldn’t be able to hold the balloon competition because of the windy conditions. I was quite surprised and notably the first clue that these guys might just follow my “Safety First” motto. Continue reading “Safety First, Adventure Second”