This is the 41st balloon festival in Statesville, and who has been at each and every one? Pilot Don Cline, from Greensboro, NC. Such an interesting man. Don's been involved in aviation since he became a fixed wing pilot in the 50s. He got involved in ballooning in the 70s. He has been involved in hot air and gas ballooning as a pilot, observer, safety officer and competitive director. He has been an FAA designated flight examiner, responsible for the certification of other pilots. He's been presented one of aviation's highest honors, the Certificate of Honor from the National Aeronautic Association for helping advance aviation and space flight. Don was presented his award in 1991 in a ceremony in DC at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Don not only flies the skies, he studies them. He founded the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, located near Brevard. He continues to serve as its president. Love the stars, skies and the idea of flight? Find Don during BalloonFest and start up a conversation!
But Don's not the only ballooning legend we'll have on hand. Al Nels is a two-time world champion, and a two-time national champion. Al actually taught the late TV news legend Walter Cronkite how to fly. His son AJ, an aerospace engineer, will also be flying at BalloonFest. AJ says his favorite flight was flying alongside his dad at nationals. Watch both of the Nels men as competition heats up this weekend.
And they'll get some great competition from pilot Chase Donner. Keep an eye on him. He always competes well. He was the 2012 National Champion, yet he says his most memorable flight was not him flying, but watching his brother Nick fly to win a World Championship! We'll miss seeing Nick fly here this year, but are always happy to have Chase flying our skies.
You never know when the young ones will sneak up on you! DJ Stukas, a senior at Clemson University, was the Balloon Federation of America's Rookie of the Year in 2013 and will be competing this weekend. He says his most memorable flight was flying the balloon "Miss Daisy" in Taiwan, where there was nothing but pineapple fields. We think his landings may be a little softer around Statesville, but you never know!
Greg Miller has been the Balloon Federation of America's long jump champion two times, but says his best flight was his very first after getting his pilot license, when he finally got to fly his wife Sherry.
Some of our pilots have flown gas balloons as well as hot air, and have had some very long flights. Stuart Enloe's most memorable flight was from Albuquerque to Saskatchewan, Canada....1,763 miles in 63 hours! Shane Robinson is a former national gas balloon champion who once flew 1,657 miles from Denver to Vermont. We think their hot air flights around Iredell County may be a bit shorter....or at least we hope so. Our goal is to keep them around Iredell County skies!
Come out this weekend and see which pilots will go the distance in our competition flights. While everything is subject to change, usually you can expect the pilots to fly to targets located on the field on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sunday should especially be a great sight to see, as the 2nd Annual Carolina BalloonFest 5k and Kids Fun Run takes place. Runners will take to the course as the balloons fly over them. Definitely a unique experience. If you haven't signed up to run yet, you still have time. Check out their website at http://www.racingtoes.com/carolina-balloonfest-5k-and-kids-fun-run/.
On The Breeze ~
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