The Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest is proud to have a group of talented pilots for this year’s festival. With 21 different balloons including fun shapes and 19 pilots, you are guaranteed a great time! Make sure to buy a ticket for your tethered or un-tethered ride and catch the evening balloon glow!
What’s a balloon meister, you ask?
The Balloon Meister is in charge of and coordinates all of the Balloon Activity at a Balloon Festival. A Balloon Meister also makes sure that all Balloon Pilots meet all FAA requirements. You need to be an FAA certified pilot and then you can branch off to your specific style of aircraft. Balloon Meisters must monitor and follow all weather activity, including wind. Weather plays a primary role in the launching of balloons and lots of effort and work goes into each launch at a festival. While everyone is out on the field getting ready to enjoy some balloon launches, the Balloon Meister is verifying the safety of everyone and monitors all activity through the launches.
New Market, TN
This year’s balloon meister is Ray Fournier. Ray opened What’s Up Ballooning in 1997. He and his wife, Mary Ann, offer scenic hour-long balloon rides, usually at about 2,000 feet, in the Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area, all of which provide great views of the Smokies. “Watching the world go by suspended below a balloon is magical,” says Fournier. Ray has taken on the responsibility of selecting and coordinating the balloonists that will participate in this year’s festival.
New Market, TN
What’s Up Ballooning
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Mary Ann Fournier and “Lucky Charm.” Mary Ann Fournier has been a certified balloon pilot for the past 40 years. She met her husband, Ray, while teaching him to fly in New Hampshire. The couple moved to Tennessee several years ago and they currently operate What’s Up Ballooning, a company that offers balloon rides in New Market. Mary Ann has flown in multiple balloon festivals all across the United States.
Mary Ann has flown in numerous balloon festivals throughout New England, Ohio and Canada and also at The Big One – Albuquerque, NM. Ray Fournier, Balloon Meister for the Festival, and Mary Ann moved to Tennessee from New Hampshire to enjoy the beauty the State has to offer, the warmer weather of the south and its southern hospitality and way of life.
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Mark Fritze and “Freedom Flyer.” Mark Fritzes first balloon ride was in 1979. He got his license to fly in 1993. Mark is currently enjoying his third balloon and has acquired over 1,200+ hours flying. With all the craziness in the world today, Mark says it’s nice to be able to literally rise above it and see the beauty of God’s creation. “I really love to take people up for their “bucket list” experience.”
Mark Fritze writes about his balloon: Adorned with 13 stars, representing the 13 original colonies, over each print of the preamble to the United States Constitution, this patriotic balloon, “Freedom Flyer,” was completed in 2010. I had it commissioned to remind “WE” the people, the importance of this document. Through the inspirational writings from our spiritually guided forefathers, for the first time in history, a society set out to break away from a ruler and govern themselves; no monarchy or dictator, but a government of, by, and for the people. This is an incredibly unique, successful, and vulnerable concept. It must be defended and followed in order to keep America strong and free.
5 O'Clock High
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Tom Mullinax and 5 O’Clock High. Tom named 5 O’Clock after Jimmy Buffett’s “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere” Lyrics. Tom has been flying Hot Air Balloons over 20 years with his Crew Chief Judy and has flown in festivals all over the US and Canada. He received his pilot’s license in 1993 and he enjoys flying friends and first time passengers wanting to mark on off the bucket list.
Travelers Rest, SC
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Anthony Seeger and Carolina Twist. Anthony is an accomplished pilot out of Traveler’s South Carolina. Anthony purchased his first balloon in 2004 and received his pilot’s license in 2006. Seeger earned his license at 24 and is flying his third balloon, named Carolina Twist. It’s named for his home state with a multicolored spiral design that wraps around the entire eye-popping envelope. Seeger has been flying Carolina Twist since 2014, the largest of his three balloons. He has competed and flown all over the East Coast.
"A Rising Star"
Blair’s Hot Air Ballooning
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Charles Blair and “A Rising Star.” Hot Air Ballooning has been a family tradition for 38 years, and Charles has been participating in this marvelous sport of ballooning for over 35 years! Charles has been a student pilot since he was a teenager but got more serious about obtaining a license in 2006. It has since become more than a hobby – something we love sharing with everyone! According to Charles, there is nothing better than being able to fly through the open sky and become a particle in the wind. There is no other feeling like it!
"This End Up"
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Derek Browning and “This End Up.” Derek has been involved with ballooning for almost 40 years. Derek and his wife are both retired from law enforcement and with their three children have made ballooning a family affair. For Derek, flying in a hot air balloon is a unique experience; you get a view that not a lot of people ever get and the balloon is quiet, there is no sense of movement. Derek credits his wife Jessie with making his dream of having his own balloon a reality. He purchased This End Up in 2011 and went on to get his commercial pilot’s license in 2012.
"Flying in the Buff"
Welcome pilot Bonnie Clevinger and “Flying In the Buff.” Bonnie has been ballooning since 1994, flying on both the East and West Coast.
Lighter Than Air Balloon Adventures
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Billy Green and “Blue Moon.” Billy Green is a commercial hot air balloon pilot and a family man with a wife and two amazing children. He has been working with balloons for over 17 years. He has had the opportunity of owning and flying several different balloons and has flown in several states and in Leon Mexico. Billy is the President of Balloon Society of Kentucky (BSOK) and a member of the Balloon Federation of America (BFA).
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Damien Ristaino and “Ra.” Damien named his balloon after the ancient Egyptian deity of the sun, Ra. An avid balloonist and skydiver, Damien has flown in several balloon festivals and competed in skydiving events all over the county. He owns and operates Get Loft Balloons in Charlotte North Carolina, doing free flights, tether rides and serving as a platform for skydivers.
Sky Candy Balloons
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Sean Richardson and SKY CANDY of Sky Candy Balloons, LLC. Sean and his wife Brittany founded Sky Candy Balloons in February of 2015 in Kannapoils, NC. Sean grew up in Wellsville, NY, home of The Great Wellsville Balloon Rally, so balloons were in Sean’s life since he was a little boy. He would ride his bike to chase the balloons and help the pilots in need. Sean met his wife, Brittany in NC and they started to crew for numerous balloon pilots. They helped out for seven years before they decided to buy a hot air balloon and start the process of Sean getting his license. Since receiving his commercial rating he has been flying up and down the east coast. Now his wife, Brittany is learning to fly. Their mission is to give people a flying adventure and bring happiness to their lives, let them live their dream and check off a bucket list item!
Above All Balloon Rides
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Scott Griswold and “Autumn Above.” Scott Griswold will be joining his brother Peter Griswold. Scott 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. Check out Above All Balloon Rides and the Griswold Brothers story to learn more about Hot Air Balloons.
Both Jack and Gina Wheeler have been flying Hot Air Balloons since 1993 when SmokyMTNAir was born. Captain Jack Wheeler is your Pilot In Command. He is a commercial Hot Air Balloon pilot and airline transport pilot for a major airline in jets as well as a flight and ground instructor for airplanes (single and multi-engine and instrument) and balloons. Crew Chief Gina Wheeler has been the adventure coordinator, student pilot, marketing/advertising director and crew chief since the inception of SmokyMtnAir. The envelope is a beautiful and colorful checkerboard pattern balloon, that is the largest banner balloon in the south. The balloon is a 90 thousand cubic foot balloon that will hold up to 4 passengers in addition to Captain Jack.
"Flying Rainbow II"
Pleasant Garden, NC
Welcome Buddy Carter piloting “Flying Rainbow II.” Buddy hails from Pleasant Garden, NC and has been flying Hot Air Balloons for over 25 years, obtaining his private pilot license in 1986 and commercial pilot license in 1989, accumulating in excess of 660 hours of flight time. Buddy and his wife got into ballooning to share their sport with those that may never have the opportunity to get close to a balloon otherwise. They visit schools and allow the children to come up ask questions, touch the balloon and at times do tethers for them. Buddy and his wife take their balloon to Paul Newman’s Victory Junction Camp in Randleman, NC and share the balloon with the handicap children that visit the camp over 6 weeks in the summer each year.
Sky Candy Balloons
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Patrick Grogan and “Pat O’Lantern.” Patrick started his ballooning interest at the Statesville balloon rally in 1990, when he crewed for a balloon from Plano, TX and had his first balloon ride. For the next three years, he continued to crew for a couple different pilots and increased his basic knowledge of ballooning. In August 1993, he started taking flight lessons and by June 1994 he received his commercial rating. Since that time, he has flown over 600 hours in many different states and in Canada. He has also flown different sizes of balloons from 77,000 cubic feet to 180,000 cubic feet.
Palmetto Sun Balloons
Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest would like to welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Roger Clark and “Pirates Booty.” The Clark family began ballooning in 1980 when Duane Clark purchased his first balloon. Sons Mike and Roger soon joined the sport and all 3 became accomplished sport, competition and commercial pilots. In the years since, we have trained many other pilots, competed internationally, taken top awards at numerous events and flown for nationally recognized brands such as ZipLoc and Coors. Roger has been flying hot air balloons since the age of 13. Roger is a passionate pilot with over 3,900 hours flight time. He has flown in most of the largest festivals, many states and about every type of balloon. Roger will tell you that the most memorable flights are those taken with ordinary people who are flying in a balloon the first time. Sharing their experience is always a thrill.
Boston Hot Air Balloon Rides
Welcome pilot Bob Martel and his Hot Air Balloon, Celtic Magic. An experienced commercial hot air balloon pilot, Bob is the founder of the Hudson Elks Balloon Festival and he has been flying Hot Air Balloons and participating in regional festivals for a number of years. In a Boston Globe interview by Stephanie Schorow, Penny Mills describes her experience with Bob in a contradiction: “Peaceful excitement.” According to Stephanie “A ride in a hot air balloon can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience, something to cross off your bucket list. For some it triggers a yearning to return to the air again and again.”
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Wayne Fortney and “Rosie.” Wayne lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has been flying his balloon named Rosie since 1996. His entire family loves the sport, and he even met his wife on a balloon ride in Bristol, Virginia. Wayne has attended rallies all over the US and Canada and has attended The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta over a dozen times. Wayne’s Team Mantra: “We launch with passengers…We land with friends.”
Peachtree City, GA
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Pete Griswold and “Speedy.” Peter and Scott Griswold are both accomplished balloon pilots originating from Syracuse, NY. They tell their story of growing up with their dad, Jim Griswold a ballooning original and what it’s like to be a legacy in the beautiful world of hot air ballooning. “I got into hot air ballooning through my father,” said Griswold of his dad, who was also a balloonist. “It wasn’t a question of if I was going to fly a balloon, it was just when.” “Ballooning means everything to me,” said Griswold. “It’s a passion, it’s a hobby, it’s a family legacy.”
Smokey the Bear
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Dale Pattyn and “Smokey Bear.” Smokey Bear turns 75 on August 9 of this year, and forestry officials will be celebrating three-quarters of a century promoting fire prevention alongside him. Dale retired from the Air Force in 2008 and traded in the sophisticated cockpit controls of his Lockheed HC-130 aircraft for a propane-powered special shape balloon that holds 145,000 cubic feet of air with a height, including basket, of 97 feet. The diameter below the eyes is 55 feet, and the hat brim diameter is 72 feet. The envelope is made up of 4,670 square yards of rip-stop nylon weighing 546 pounds
Dale started crewing for a local Balloon Pilot in 2005 upon moving to Albuquerque, NM while still Active Duty Air Force and fell in love with this different way to fly. He bought his first Balloon in 2009 and has accumulated in excess of 250 hours flight time. He is a retired Air Force Command Pilot with over 5,000 flight hours having flown T-37, T-38 and various C-130 aircraft. According to Dale, Ballooning is “Good times with our family and friends, new and old!!”
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Wayne Fortney and “Sunny Boy.” Wayne lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has been flying his balloon named Rosie since 1996. Sunny Boy joins Rosie as Adventure Time Ballooning’s newest addition to the fleet of hot air balloons owned and operated by Wayne and Ann Fortney
"Pokey the Turtle"
Welcome Hot Air Balloon Pilot Pete Griswold and “Pokey the Turtle.” Peter and Scott Griswold are both accomplished balloon pilots originating from Syracuse, NY. They tell their story of growing up with their dad, Jim Griswold a ballooning original and what it’s like to be a legacy in the beautiful world of hot air ballooning. “I got into hot air ballooning through my father,” said Griswold of his dad, who was also a balloonist. “It wasn’t a question of if I was going to fly a balloon, it was just when.” “Ballooning means everything to me,” said Griswold. “It’s a passion, it’s a hobby, it’s a family legacy.”
After driving racecars for 10 years, John was looking for an inexpensive way to get the same thrill. That’s when, in 1979, John came upon Hot Air Balloon racing. It was an adventure from the beginning, and John has been flying ever since. John’s Air Force of Special Shapes Hot Air balloons and his team will be bringing two special shape Hot Air Balloons to Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest, Yellow Bird and Puddy Cat. The Cartoon Hot Air Balloons travel the United States and Canada, attending Hot Air Balloon Festivals and Special Events during the year.
Cartoon Hot Air Balloons
Tom has been flying for 28 years. He has been to 3 countries, 38 states and met a lot of people. He is a past winner of the Kentucky Derby Balloon Fest. When he is not flying, he is talking about flying or sleeping! Tom will be flying Puddy Cat for John Cavin’s Air Force of Special Shapes Hot Air Balloons.
Stuart has been flying since his mid-teens, first rated in fixed wing, then hot air balloons. Stuart has been flying balloons for 33 years and has over 3,500 hours flight time. He is a full time balloonist, flying seven days a week. Stewart loves to fly! He has been flying the REMAX Balloon since 1990. Stuart has flown as chief pilot for many corporate programs, taken 1000’s of passengers for flights, as well as competing nationally in both Hot Air and Gas Balloons. With over 2700 hours in balloons Stuart has the experience to teach the most advanced maneuvers, and the patience to train new students as well. Enloe being a big kid at heart still enjoys the thrill of flight each and every time. “I enjoy introducing people to aviation, and balloons.”
Stuart is the Chief Flight Instructor for Balloonacy, Ltd. RE/MAX is known the world over by its iconic red, white and blue hot air balloons. In fact, RE/MAX boasts the world’s largest fleet of hot air balloons with over 100 in operation world-wide.
Bob, a Union Rural Electric Coop member, has accumulated about 1600 hours flying balloons in the last 30 years. Ballooning is really his life as he operates an FAA balloon repair and inspection station, sells balloons for Lindstrand Balloons USA, manages a couple local commercial balloon advertising contracts in the Central Ohio area, including one that he has run for over 25 years. He has been a past BFA competitor, has flown balloons in 20 states, and also runs a passenger ride business. One of his favorite things, that never gets old, is sharing the wonder and excitement of ballooning with people that have never been up before.
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