Pilots & Balloons

Congrats to our 2018 winners!

Please see below for the official winners of the 46th annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race presented by PNC Bank. 1st Place – Mike Bien – Chesterfield, MO 860 ft – “Curly Top” 2nd place – Jason Gaines-O’Fallon, MO 1,440 ft – Dirty Dogz Hot Dogs 3rd Place – Tom Caton-House Spring, MO, 1,600 ft “Time Traveler” flying for Maryville University The Great Forest Park Balloon Race is a Hare and Hound-style Race. Orange Blossom, The PNC Bank Balloon, is the “Hare” launching and landing first and placing a target on the ground for the “Hounds” in pursuit to try their aim at tossing a birdseed bag closest to its center.    

Meet the 2019 Pilots

Frank Anger (Tupulo, MS)
Scott Appelman (Albuquerque, NM)
Rainbow Ryders, Inc. Hot Air Balloon Company, President/CEO providing balloon rides and corporate promotion. Rainbow Ryders is celebrating its 358th Anniversary and is the largest balloon ride business in the United States. We operate 30 balloons year round doing over 2100 flights per year and flying over 25,000 passengers. With full time operations in Albuquerque, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Colorado Springs (seasonally) We have flown in 45 states and have manage events in Bentonville, Arkansas, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Chihuahua Mexico and Guadalajara, Mexico, Experience: Commercial Pilot License Lighter than Air, September 1984. 5400+ pilot in command flight hours, 800 tether hours, special shape balloon pilot Established and manage RAINBOW RYDERS, INC. a commercial hot air balloon company offering rides, tethers, promotion, instruction and all sales aspects of hot air ballooning, 1984 to current. Official Hot Air Balloon Ride Concession for the ALBUQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA® since 1999.
Mike Bien (Chesterfield, MO)
Mike began flying airplanes during college and received his pilot’s license in 1972. He was eventually balloon certified in 1984 and now operates Balloonacy, a local balloon ride business. A native St. Louisan, Mike identifies his roots as attending Little Flower,then Bishop DuBourg high school, with undergraduate degrees from Kirksville and Southeast Mo State and Graduate degrees from Lindenwood and Webster Universities. Mike won the GFPBR in 2018.
Michael Boylan (Washington, IL)
Dean Carlton (Danville, IL)
Dean Carlton is a commercial pilot from Danville, Illinois. Dean and the Ca-Zoo crew starting flying balloons in 1997. His local crew consists of a large extended family and a close association of friends (the Danville Balloon Group) that crew together for 6 local balloonists. Ballooning is a family affair for this group, as his son Ryan and sister Donna Vish are also commercial pilots, and his wife Angela and daughter Kelli crew for all the balloons. Dean is flying WAGZ, a special shape Golden Retriever pup who is brand new this year. The Carlton family have 2 Goldens at home, and has now added one in the air. Wagz enjoys spending time with kids of all ages. Dean is also the founder of the annual Les Nessman Memorial Turkey Drop event held each Thanksgiving in Danville, in which rubber “turkeys” are dropped from balloons onto targets, in “WKRP in Cincinnati” style. In 2002 Dean had the opportunity to take Captain James Lovell, Jr., commander of Apollo 13, for his first balloon flight. When not in the air, Dean is a commercial real estate developer for Heritage Development Services Company.
Ryan Carlton (Danville, IL)
Ryan Carlton is a commercial pilot and flight instructor from Danville, IL. Ryan is a frequent speaker at pilot safety seminars around the country, specializing in the topics of weather and crew training.
Donna J Carlton-Vish (Danville, IL)
Donna says ballooning gives her an opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and make friends all over the world. Every flight is just a little different and a new experience each time, but one thing that is a constant and for which we need no language translation and that is the large smile on everyone’s face as they get to crew and/or ride. Ballooning has always been a family event in the Carlton Clan. Donna started crewing at the Danville Balloon Classic, where her family sponsored a husband and wife balloon team. Donna tallied over 15 years of crewing experience before she realized her dream of becoming a private balloon pilot in 2001 and a commercial pilot in 2006. Event Planning: Chairperson for Balloon School, Vermilion County, Boat Club Splash n Dash, Balloons Over Vermilion, Non-Event, Indy Air Show. Charity Event Fund Raisers: Riley Children’s Hospital, Relay for Life, and AMBUCS a National Charity whose motto is Inspiring Mobility and Independence! Her focus has been children with different abilities, persons whose lives have been touched by cancer, so patients, caregivers or healthcare workers, and veterans. Teaching: One of her favorite opportunities is teaching. If you see a balloon with loads of kids around it is probably Donna. She often does School programs and has been staff at BFA Balloon Camp, Civil Air Patrol Camp, Illinois, and is the chairperson of the Balloons Over Vermilion Balloon School. this program also goes into schools in Vermilion County to promote and educate kids about Hot Air Ballooning. Donna and her husband Don, crew chief travel all over North America flying. She has flown Leon, Mexico for the largest Mexican balloon event, Festival Internacional del Globos, L’international de montgolfieres de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec Balloon Festival held near Montreal and most recently a trip to the Umbria region on Italy. She also flys various events throughout the USA. While most of the ballooning events they attend are in the Midwest Donna has gone to Albuquerque to crew or fly for the last 20 years. Another interesting event is the Lake Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair in Arizona. It is pretty exciting flying over the London Bridge! It is held in January and gives Donna and Don an excuse to do some extensive traveling in the Southwest during the Illinois winter. Favorite Flights: Gallup New Mexico-Flying the Red Rock formations. Las Vegas, NV-Riding in the 310,000 and getting a lesson in a BIG BALLOON! Our ride took us to the canyons where we could contour fly. We could see so far into the canyons and turn around and see the glitz of the Strip!! That evening I flew Sunny Side Up in the same area! And of course, Italy…it is all that is described. Miles and miles of winding roads with lots of very green hills, farm fields, and olive trees so the chase is truly a chase and the scenery is beyond words.
Roy Caton (Cedar Hill, MO)
Roy started flying hot air balloons in 1977. He earned his private pilot’s certification rating the following year. Caton started flying fulltime as a professional pilot in 1982, the year that United Van Lines started their program, now the second longest running balloon program in the United States. His travels have taken him to all 48 continental states, driving over one million miles, and logging over 2,000 hours of flying time.
Tom Caton (House Springs, MO)
I have been flying hot air balloons since 1985 thanks to my cousin Larry and my brother Roy who got me involved in ballooning in the first place. It is a wonderful sport it’s been a lot of fun, meeting a lot of new people and having a great time with friends. It never gets old flying because each flight is different than the last so it’s always something new and exciting. It’s always great to see how much fun and excitement your passengers are having and being able to point out wildlife and different landmarks when flying. Being invited and being able to fly in the Great Forest Park Balloon Race for 30+ years has been a memorable part of my flying career. Enjoy life be happy 🙂
Tim Cloyd (Runnells, IA)
Ballooning has blessed me with the ability to bring much joy to a countless number of people. I have flown 10 balloon flights of more than 100 miles including a 413 mile flight with a top altitude of 17,900 feet and top speed of 100 mph. The annual flight is called “Extreme Flight to Find a Cure” which raises money for cancer research. Also I fly names of people who have dealt with cancer through “Lifting UP a Loved One”. For a minimum $15 donation to my non profit charity and you designate the money to go to a cancer organization of your choice and I will fly the name of your Loved One. Go to my website https://www.tecvisions.org to honor a Loved One.
Donald Conner (New Albany, IN)
Don started flying balloons in 1972 and was one of the first balloonists in Indiana. He has been a full-time professional balloon pilot since 1979. Don and his wife (and Crew Chief) Debbie have traveled extensively during his career, flying in 25 countries, including long term positions in Jamaica, Kenya, Egypt, Oman, and Tanzania. Among their favorite places to fly balloons are Italy and Thailand. Don and Debbie now reside in New Albany, Indiana where they operate Great Flight balloons.
Jordan Cox (City, State)
Keith Fear (House Springs, MO)
A 35 year veteran Commercial Hot Air Balloon pilot, Keith owns and operates Balloons Over The Rainbow, Inc., one of the largest balloon ride companies in the United States. In addition to St. Louis, Balloons Over The Rainbow operates World Balloon in Albuquerque New Mexico, Pueblo Balloon in Taos New Mexico, Vegas Balloon Rides in Las Vegas and Orlando Balloon Rides in Orlando Florida. His company introduces tens of thousands of people a year to ballooning and helps them create memories that will last a lifetime. Come join Keith for the adventure of a lifetime!
Jason Gaines (O’Fallon, MO)
Attended my first Forest Park Balloon Race at age 5 in 1978. I would see the balloons fly over my house in Ballwin all summer long and would make my mom chase them down, I was hooked, they fascinated me for some reason. Began crewing in 1986 as a 13 year old. I began my flight training in 1997,and my childhood dream came true when I received my private pilots license in 2001 and commercial in 2003. Since then I have over 800 pic hours and flown in 20 states and 3 countries.
Dick Goss (Leander, TX)
Tim Grahm (Columbia, MO)
Learned to fly in 1995. Have flown in 2 countries and 8 states. Ballooning has allowed me to see places and meet people that I otherwise would not have.
Greg Hanson (House Spring, MO)
The 2019 Great Forest Park Balloon Race will be Greg’s 40th consecutive year as a registered pilot in the race (he has not missed any since 1979). From 1976 to 1978 he was also at the race as a crew chief for the 7Up Balloon. Greg has flown in over 35 states over the years as a full time commercial hot air balloon pilot accumulating over 2500+ hours. Greg has flown many shapes, including the Wehrenberg Theatres Popcorn Bag, The Energizer Bunny Hot ‘Hare’ Balloon, The 7UP Can and more. These days he is training both his daughters (Nicole and Katelyn Hanson) how to fly and maintain balloons. Greg lives with his wife of 28 years, Karen and family in House Springs, MO. In his spare time Greg is an avid St. Louis Blues fan and outdoorsmen.
John Hitron (Louisville, KY)
Balloon Pilot since 1979 First Great Forest Park Balloon Race 1982
David Holmes (Rocheport, MO)
Retired minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ; married 43 years to Lysa; 3 married children; 4 grandchildren; rides a Harley Electra Glide Ultra Classic; ballooning 21 years; participates in balloon events in Canada, Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma and Indiana and Alabama (so far).
Ben Humphreys (Columbia, MO)
Ben was born and raised in Columbia Missouri where the U.S. national championship hot air balloon races were held in the late 1990’s. Ben had always found interest in balloons because many pilots have been in the area since the nationals. Ben and his family would chase and help pack away balloons when they would see balloons flying. Eventually Ben went on a ride which led to him helping with local pilots and eventually started to train to be a pilot himself. Ben has been flying balloons since he was 13 and been a pilot for 5 years with over 200 hours in balloons and countless of hours crewing for other balloons. He has flown in events in Iowa, New Mexico, Florida and Missouri. Ben also enjoys building balloons as he flies two balloons that he sewed entirely by himself.
Glo Kehoe (Albuquerque, NM)
Glo belongs to an elite group of only six women in the U.S. who make their careers as full-time corporate balloon pilots. Kehoe’s ballooning career has taken her to more than 40 states. The most treasured award she has received was the Spirit of Ballooning, presented to her by her fellow pilots at an event in Tucson, Az.
Alan Lawson (Kirbyville, MO)
I have been ballooning for 14 years. Commercial balloon Pilot. Commercial fixed wing Pilot. Glider rating. Seaplane rating. Retired Fireman 25 years with Springfield Mo. fire dept.
Julius Lutz (St. Charles, MO)
Commercial balloon pilot, flight instructor, and competitor. 2016 US Nationals Rookie of the Year. Past Flying Events Director for the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association, the world’s largest single location ballooning organization hosting monthly events of between 30 and 100+ balloons, President of Top Gun the NM Competition Balloon Club, and Event Organizer for the Rio Grande Classic. Has flown internationally in Great Britain, France and Mexico and represented the United States at the reenactment of the first balloon flight in the birthplace of ballooning, Annonay France.
Adam Magee (Swisher, IA)
Adam was named the 2019 Flight Instructor of the Year by the Federal Aviation Administration. Adam is a past recipient of the Bill Murtorff Spirit of Ballooning Award from the Balloon Federation of America as well as a past recipient of a BFA Director’s Award. Adam is an avid competition pilot, winning the 2015 Iowa State Championship, and has represented the USA at the 2012 and 2016 Jr. World Hot Air Balloon Championship. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Balloon Federation of America Hot Air Competition Division, is a Board member and Treasurer of The National Balloon Museum in Indianola, IA, and is the co-founder of The Balloon Training Academy a 501(c)3 non profit organization designed to train, educate, and develop the next generation of hot air balloon pilots. Adam is also a FAA Safety Team Representative, WINGSPro, and DronePro.
Kimberly Magee (Swisher, IA)
Originally from St Louis, MO now residing in Iowa with husband Adam Magee. Kim is from a ballooning family her mother, father, husband, and mother-in-law are commercial pilots. This winter Kim set 6 World and 9 National hot air balloon records.
Liz Magee (Columbia, MO)
I started flying in 1995, when the National Balloon Championships were in Columbia, MO. My children were 8 and 5 at the time. Ballooning quickly became our summer family activity. My husband Noel is our navigator. Our son Adam, who was 5 when we began, now 29, is a commercial pilot and is also flying in this event. Adam developed and runs the Balloon Training Academy, has published safety related articles in the FAA’s magazine and serves on the FAA’s safety team. Our daughter-in-law, Kimberly Magee, is also a commercial pilot. Kim set several world and national records in ballooning this past winter. Kim is flying in this event as well. Very proud of these “kids”! Happy to know ballooning will continue in our family!
Terry Montague (Centralia, MO)
Terry has loved ballooning since he seen one balloon floating above his mom and dad pasture early in life. When he lived in Columbia he seen several balloons in time. In Columbia, MO they held a Pre National balloon show and he went to watch it at the fair grounds outside of Columbia. The next three years he crewed for a Balloon from Phoenix the pilot of this balloon was a wonderful lady and help train Terry. After Terry’s first ride Terry said that first year that he wanted a balloon and before that next year came around he had a used balloon system. He put several hours on that and had to buy another envelope to get his training done. Once he got his Hours in he bought a brand new envelope and traded up to a bigger basket. Terry flew a commercial balloon and flew banners for companies and his business he had. Terry has flown in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Even in the Country of Mexico. One of Terry favorite things to see the smile and the fun kids and adults have at balloon events and just flying over town. Terry has over 400 hr in balloon and enjoys ever moment with family and friends.
Steve Mroz (St. Paul, MO)
Steve Mroz Started Flying Hot Air Balloons in 1978 Has Logged over 4,000 hours in Hot Air and Gas Balloons with a Accident Free record. He is FAA Certificated Pilot in Gas and Hot Air Balloons and is also an FAA Certificated Repairman. Steve has flown in many states throughtout the U.S. including many Coroporate Brand Balloons. His most Memorable flight was an Altitude attempt flight to 35,000 Feet and an additonal Long Distance Winter Flight of over 276 miles Non-Stop. Steve is currently the Primary Pilot for RE/MAX® St. Louis flying their balloons across the Region doing Aerial Advertising at various Community events in the Greater St. Louis Region.
Joe Nepute (St Louis, MO)
Joe was born in St louis and has been flying since he was 14. He is a corporate pilot for a national fractional jet company. He has over 14,000 flying hours in many types of aircraft both for airlines and corporate flight departments. He started flying balloons during 2010 in Dubai and is a now a commercial balloon pilot. Joe is also an experienced skydiver. His first flight in a balloon did not end in a landing as he jumped out of the balloon. That flight and jump gave him the ballooning bug. His most memorable flight to date was a flight over the snow-covered Austrian Alps to a height of 13,500ft. He currently resides and balloons around the St Louis Metro area in the Jambo Balloon. He is honored to be in St Louis, flying in the Great Forest Park Balloon race with such an excellent and renowned group of balloon pilots.
Joe Nusrala (Defiance, MO)
Joe has a love for flying. He flies both hot air balloons and helicopters currently. He is just now getting into powered paragliders. Joe has been flying balloons since 1987. He has flown over 600 flights. Joe took second place at the Great forest Park Balloon race in 2011 and won 1st place in 2013. He lives in Defiance Missouri and owns an internet business that sells luggage, backpacks, briefcases and shoes. He just recently opened the Quarry Wine Garden in New Melle with some partners.
Larry Owen (Danville, IL)
I got my Commercial Hot Air Balloon license in 1998. I also have a fixed wing Private, Commercial and Instrument license. My wife Sheelagh is also a private Hot Air Balloon pilot. We live in Danville Illinois. I’m a Financial Advisor and Sheelagh does purchasing for a large manufacturer. We have flow all over the United States, Canada and Mexico. We have flown in the Forest Park race for 13 years and it is one of our favorite balloon events. We won the event in 2011.
Joe Ream (Urbana, IL)
Joe (Joe Tomato) is the better half of the two world famous Flying Tomato Brothers (who’s Ralph?) Commercial pilots and instructors of balloons and fixed wing aircraft since 1974, the tomato brothers (age 28) fly the tomato balloon, the first special-shaped balloon ever licensed in America, over their Garcia’s PIzza in a Pan restaurants in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, & Texas. With over 4000 flight hours, the the tomato brothers are skilled at safely executing high wind take-offs and landings, since much of their experience is ballooning over Big Ten football games on windy afternoons. Joe & Ralph are honored to be the longest continuous attendees of The Great Forest Park Balloon Race (42 yrs.), and to often be selected as the Hare Balloon.
Ralph Senn (Champaign, IL)
Ralph (Ralph Tomato) is the better half of the two world famous Flying Tomato Brothers ( who’s Joe?) Commercial pilots and instructors of balloons and fixed wing aircraft since 1974, the tomato brothers (age 28) fly the tomato balloon, the first special-shaped balloon ever licensed in America, over their Garcia’s PIzza in a Pan restaurants in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, & Texas. With over 4000 flight hours, the the tomato brothers are skilled at safely executing high wind take-offs and landings, since much of their experience is ballooning over Big Ten football games on windy afternoons. Ralph & Joe are honored to be the longest continuous attendees of The Great Forest Park Balloon Race (45yrs.), and to often be selected as the Hare Balloon. (….sent Mom lots of Ralph & Joe photos ‘ bout 4 or so years ago. Might you find them to use in the program?)
John Rucker (Genoa City, WI)
I started crewing in 2005 for Lake Geneva Balloon Co. Started my training to become a pilot in 2008. Got my private license in March of 2010 and got my commercial license in August of 2016. I first crewed at Great Forest Park in 2006 and flew my first flight as PIC in 2014.
Chris Sabia (Overland Park, KS)
Chris took his first hot-air balloon ride in 1988 and his head has been in the clouds ever since. Bitten by the ballooning bug at a young age, Chris and his father began chasing balloons, providing a helping hand when they landed. Soon the teams invited Chris and his father to become part of the crew. Chris learned the ins-and-outs of hot air ballooning over the next few years and became a Commercial Pilot in 1997. In the spring of 2002 Chris became the pilot for the Wonder Hot Air Balloon team and is currently piloting the 90,000 cubic-foot Wonder balloon all across the United States. He has flown thousands of hours in a hot air balloon and in addition to Wonder, has flown commercially for RE/MAX®, Coca-Cola® and Kellogg’s®, and several local and regional contracts. In addition, Chris is also a Cameron Balloons dealer. Chris started a balloon event in Kansas City in 2005, called the Great American BBQ, and Balloons. Chris was on the executive committee for the event from 2005 until 2009. Chris was on the board of directors for the event from 2007-2009. Chris helped start the Overland Park Balloon festival in 2010, and was the Balloonmeister for the inaugural event in 2010. Chris was the Balloonmeister for the Gatesway International Balloon Festival from 2010 until 2016. Chris helped start the Tulsa Balloon festival in 2016, and was the Balloonmeister for the event in 2016 and 2017 Chris was on the executive board for the Great Plains balloon club in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Chris served as Balloonmeister for the 2017 Great Plains balloon event, Huff N’ Puff. Chris is also an airplane pilot. He is an ATP (airline transport pilot), the PHD for airplanes. He is currently type rated in several jets. Chris is a captain for the airlines.
Daniel Salters (High Ridge, MO)
Daniel has been around ballooning all his life. His father, Larry Salters, a pilot since 1978, has shown the family how ballooning can be a fun activity shared with others. Together, they enjoy local flights with family and friends as their primary flying time. Making ballooning a low-key recreational activity has kept it fun for everyone involved.
Larry Salters (High Ridge, MO)
Larry first participated in the Great Forest Park Balloon Race in 1985 and looks forward to many more. After more than 40 years of flying full-time, part-time, and for recreation, he still most enjoys fall flights when the leaves are changing around the hills of the St. Louis area. Not all years are equally colorful, but when they are, it is always worthwhile.
Taylon Sandlin (City, State)
Tony Sandlin (Fishers, IN)
Tony is the owner of Midwest Balloon Rides. Tony has flown more hours than any other balloon pilot in the state of Indiana over the last few years and has currently logged over 1850 hours in balloons total. He was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN and now lives in Fishers, IN with his wife, Gail and their 3 sons. Tony became involved in ballooning in 1989 after answering an ad in the Thrifty Nickel Newspaper looking for a person to join a hot air balloon crew team. From there he studied to become a private pilot and then became a commercial hot air balloon pilot in 2005. Tony sold his first balloon “Inflated Ego” and currently flies either “Blown Away” or the largest of his balloons “Out of the Blue” that carries one of the only baskets with a door in the tri-state area. Tony is the current President of the Professional Ride Operators Association has flown extensively throughout the United States as well as Canada, Mexico and the Middle East. 2011 through 2018 Tony was included as one of only 42 balloons permitted to give passenger rides at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, an annual gathering of over 600 hot air balloons. He has been invited back to do the same in 2019. In August of 2012 Tony was hired to film a commercial using his balloons in California for a company from Spain. Interesting fact: Vice President Mike Pence and his family took a balloon flight with Tony a few years ago! Tony is the current President of the Professional Rides Operators of the US – A division of the BFA!
Dan Schettler (St. Louis, MO)
As one of the founding Partners, Dan is a key factor in the success of the The Great Forest Park Balloon Race. He coordinates the entire launch field and operations related to creating the festival surrounding the race.
John Schettler (St. Louis, MO)
Jack Semler (Westfield, IN)
Jack’s favorite event through the ballooning season is the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, it’s a chance for him and his family to visit local friends and family. Jack is fly’s his balloon “Chasing Dreams”, named by his wife Lynn, for his dream and passion of flying balloons. When not flying one of his other special shape balloons, “Oggy the Friendly Dragon”, and “Smiley Scarecrow”, ( both found on Facebook ). He’s flying a 767 freighters for a Tennessee based cargo airline.
Gary Sines (Jefferson City, MO)
Gary Sines has been flying balloons for 46 years. He and his wife Janice still fly corporate contracts, train pilots,fly rides and compete in balloon competitions. They have 8 balloons including 2 Special Shapes. (Coco the Clown and Buzzy Bee)
Janice Sines (Jefferson City, MO)
Janice has been ballooning since 1972 when she took her first balloon ride with Tracy Barnes, founder of The Balloon Works. That year she earned her commercial balloon rating and traveled with her husband, Gary, throughout 15 states flying balloon promotions, selling rides and giving instruction. In 1974 Janice received the BFA Distinguished Aeronaut Award. Ballooning highlights include flying over the Pyramid of the Moon north of Mexico City, placing second in the 9th Ladies World Cup held in Chez Charon, France, and flying in the first balloon race in Inner Mongolia, China. Other memorable flights include, adventure flying over the rainforests of Costa Rica, and racing in Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. Her most adventurous racing was with Bill Woodhead in the New Mexico Challenge in Albuquerque where one year they placed second, one year first, and one year had to be helicopter off a mountain.
Bill Smiley (Olathe, KS)
Bill has been flying balloons since 1980. Bill is a Mechanical Engineer in Kansas City. He restores antique cars in his spare time and loves to water-ski. Bill has attended the Great Forest Park Balloon Race since 1989. Owns and operates Hot Expectations Balloon Co flying charter flights in the Kansas City area.
Susan Stamats (Clear Rapids, IA)
I’ve been a commercial balloon pilot since 1984 and I have over 2,700 flights. Most of my flying has been in Cedar Rapids, IA where I have a ride business. I’ve flown in competitions around the country throughout the years competing in weekend events as well as the Nationals and first Women’s Worlds. I’ve also flown in Mexico, France, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Poland. The highest I’ve every flown is 18,500′ over the continental divide in the Rockies and the longest flight I’ve had is 100 miles. I couldn’t do this without the continuing support of my wonderful and amazing crew. Without them I’d be lost.
Carlton Sumner (Rincon, GA)
Carlton Sumner has over 20 years of flying experience and has logged over 10,000 hours in balloons, airplanes, and gliders. His passion for aviation took him to the University of North Dakota where he earned a Bachelors of Science in Aeronautics as well as multiple pilot ratings. From school, Mr. Sumner spent the next 14 years as an airline pilot flying passengers all across the United States. Carlton has fully immersed himself in the sport of ballooning, attending festivals and flying any chance he gets. His newest balloon, the blue and white racer manufactured by Lindstrand, has been a joy to fly and is beautiful to watch when it glows in the evenings. Carlton’s professional aviation career is flying the Boeing 767 worldwide. He is married to his wife Kaytie of 15 years. They have 3 children; Selah, Allison, and Noah.
Denis Sutter (Hallsville, MO)
Became a pilot in 1996. Have flown in several states and Mexico.
Matt Torgerson (Louisville, KY)
Born and raised in Meridian, MS, Matt doesn’t remember not being around balloons. His father Larry started flying balloons in 1979 when Matt was 2 years old. ​ Matt received his Hot Air Balloon pilot certificate in 1994. Today, Matt has over 1,000 hours of balloon flight time and is the FAA Designated Examiner for the state of Mississippi, conducting check-rides issuing balloon pilot certificates all over the United States. Matt holds a Bachelor’s degree in Commercial Aviation from Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. Matt has over 13,000 hours of flight time between airplanes and balloons and he is currently a pilot on the Boeing 757/767 for UPS, flying packages around the globe. ​ Matt has flown balloons all over the United States as well as in England, Italy, and Germany. The Cotswold’s in England being his favorite place to fly. While he really hasn’t flown many famous people in balloons, He has flown many celebrity’s in airplanes, including: Muhammad Ali, House Speaker Paul Ryan, James Earl Jones, Anderson Cooper, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Little John, and Tim Irvine from The Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible. ​ Matt’s Hobbies outside of flying include Fine Wines, Cooking, and Hunting. Matt is married to his beautiful wife Stacey and has two Children Irie, 9 and Orrin, 3. Matt has spent much time in the St. Louis area over the years, even based here for a number of years in his previous job as an American Eagle/ American Connection Pilot. ​ Matt is very excited to be back in the St. Louis area and Forest Park.
Brian Trapp (Oregonia, OH)
Brian’s professional ballooning career started in 1980 using his borrowed grandmother’s balloon in St. Louis, MO. Over the years, Brian has accumulated over 6500 flight hours, mostly in Lighter-than-air aircraft, including hot-air airships. Currently, Brian is co-owner of Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company, Ltd. (www.HotAirBalloonRides.com) and owner of the maintenance facility, R4BR027N. Having flown throughout the United States, also flown in multiple counters, including running a balloon ride operation and repair facility on a small island in the South Pacific, Fiji. Brian’s formal college education completed with a Bachelor degree (1989) in the Management Information Systems (Information Technology) and remained in the I.T. Field over 15 years. Flight Experiences: Jul 1980 First Experience with Lighter than Air – Balloons May 1983 US Private Pilot Certificate, Balloons Jul 1985 US Commercial Pilot, Free Balloons Jun 1995 Obtained Air Agency Certificate: Repair Station – Balloons Sep 2004 Designation as FAA Pilot Examiner, Cincinnati District Office Dec 2009 CAAFI Earned Maintenance Authorization, LTA – Balloons – Fiji Islands Jan 2010 CAAFI Obtained CPL – LTA – Balloons, Fiji Islands Nov 2011 Added Airplane, Single-Engine-Land rating to USA certificate Oct 2014 Appointed Warren County Airport Authority Board, I68 Aug 2016 Added Instrument Airplane Jan 2017 Upgraded to Commercial Airplane Sep 2017 Added Airplane CFI Jan 2018 Added Instrument Instruction (CFII)
Travis Vencel (Bloomington, IN)
Travis has been flying balloons for 30 years, flying corporate balloons, passenger flights and providing instruction. Travis lives in Bloomington, Indiana. When not flying balloons Travis is in Real Estate Development with a national company to provide multi-family housing. Travis travels the United States during the ballooning season and always loves coming the the Great Forest Park Balloon Event.
Kurt Vitense (St. Peters, MO)
In addition to flying hot air balloons, Kurt is also a fixed wing international corporate pilot, flying professionally for the past 25 years. He is heavily involved with the local St. Louis ballooning community, has over 8,000 hours of flight time, and loves to fly, whether it’s 5 degrees, or 95 degrees! This is Kurt’s second year participating in The Great Forest Park Balloon Race, flying his balloon Eden, named after his first granddaughter!
Jady Wade (Eminence, KY)
Mike Wade (Lexington, KY)
Mike Wadley (Weldon Spring, MO)
Mike is a second generation hot air balloon pilot. He received his LTA certificate in 1997, and has held a commercial LTA license for nineteen years. Mike is the current president of the Gateway Aerostatic Association in St. Louis and recipient of the Balloon Federation of America Directors Award. His piloting experience includes a flight to 12,000 feet and participation in events throughout the country. He enjoys instructing student pilots and flying friends and family.
Ken Walter (Waukesha, WI)
A balloonist since 1988, Ken has logged over 1800 piloting hours. Ken, a full-time balloonist, owns and operates WindDancer Balloon Promotions. He lives in Waukesha, WI with his wife Kay and three boys, Jack, Ben and Max. WindDancer organizes balloon events, provides advertising/promotional opportunities and offers passenger flights. Ken is also an authorized dealer for Lindstrand Balloons. The Walter family travels to balloon events across the country and enjoy the freedom and serenity that ballooning provides.
Gary Whitby Columbia, MO)
Bio: Gary Whitby Pilot of the Goldfish Hot Air Balloon “Boomer” Gary was born and raised in St. Louis and attended the Great forest Park Balloon Race in it’s early years and dreamed of one day flying his own balloon in the event. After volunteering at a balloon event he came home and announced that he wanted to get his own balloon. In 1996 he ordered his new balloon and has been flying ever since. He has competed in competition ballooning at the U.S Nationals Hot Air Balloon Championships and flown in events across the United States as well as in Mexico at the International Festival Del Globos held in Leon Mexico. “Every flight is a new adventure” and Gary enjoys sharing his love of flight with his passengers. He has hundreds of hours as pilot in command with out any accidents or mishaps. Gary and Cindy Whitby currently live in Columbia, MO. Gary Whitby owns and operates the Pepperidge Farm cookie and cracker distributorship in Central Missouri. gary@columbiaballoon.com.
Jim Wolters (Holts Summit, MO)
I started flying Hot Air Balloons in 1978. During this time I have flown the Pepsi Balloon, Mt. Dew Balloon, Pantera’s Pizza, Pizza Inn Balloon and have been flying the Missouri Lottery Balloon since 1992.
Scott Wooge (St. Louis, MO)
Scott & Cynthia Wooge have been involved with Ballooning since 1984. Currently, Scott is the Treasurer of the local ballooning club: Gateway Aerostatic Assoc/GAA & past At-Large Director for the Balloon Federation of America/BFA. They sell balloons for Lindstrand Balloons USA & operate a Repair Station in South County St. Louis area when they are not working at their full time jobs.
Carl Young (DeWitt, IA)
Carl has had his pilot’s license since 1980. He has spoken at safety seminars and taught at FAA ground schools, been a National Balloon Classic board member, National Balloon Museum Board member, Iowa Balloon Assoc. vice president in 1992 and president in 1993, assistant Fiesta Director and scoring officer for the US National championships 1989-92,Fiesta Director for US Championships 1993-97. He has flown in 41 states, and in 19 different types and sizes of balloons, many which were special shapes.
Alan Zielinski (Niles, IL)
Biography BIOGRAPHY: Alan W. Zielinski Alan has had two passions, flying and architecture. When he is not managing his 62 year old family architectural and design firm, Alan can be found at or near your local airport. Flying for over 45 years, he began flying fixed wing aircraft in 1973 and discovered ballooning in 1979. Last year completed his 32nd year flying at Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. With over 10,000 hours of accident free flying experience to draw on, Alan is often found speaking to aviation groups, instructing and writing safety related articles and is involved in teaching the Civil Air Cadets and flying in EAA’s young Eagles Program. Retired from one of Chicago’s Top 500 Corporations as Chief Pilot, he is type rated in the Citation series of jets, holds single pilot qualifications and currently holds six world speed records. Still flying Citations, Alan is certificated as an Airline Transport Pilot, Land & Sea and Commercial Pilot in Gliders and Balloons. He holds the distinction of being an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner for fixed wing and balloon operations and is a member of the FAA’s new FAAST Team. Alan has been awarded “The Spence Award” by the Chicago Flight Examiners Association and “The Theo Award” by Chicago Flight Instructors Association for his contributions to aviation safety and leadership within the aviation community.

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