July 26-28 2019

Solberg Airport - Readington, NJ 973-882-5464

Countdown to Festival Fun

 

Until the 2018
 Quick Chek New Jersey
Festival of Ballooning!

 

 

The Beach Boys

A Pilot's View

BEHIND THE SCENES: TERRY KONASH, FESTIVAL CREW COORDINATOR

When we fill the sky with 100 gigantic, colorful, and whimsical sport and special shaped hot air balloons, you may be wondering just what does it take for these beautiful balloons to take flight.
 
And if fun and adventure further peak your curiosity, you may be able to find out firsthand.
 
“It takes anywhere from 3 to 18 people to help launch a balloon,” said Terry Konash, the Festival’s Crew Coordinator for the past 21 years. “While everyone is in awe when the balloons take flight, people don’t realize just what goes into preparing a balloon for flight.”
 
The magic of ballooning begins with the balloon envelope packed away inside a large duffle bag, along with the gondola (basket), fans, ropes and various other forms of equipment, inside of a large truck or SUV. They are transported to the Balloon Launch Field. The truck/SUV also serves as a chase vehicle to retrieve the balloon, pilot and passengers following its flight.  
 
 
The envelope gets unpacked and laid out flat on the ground under the direction of the balloon pilot or crew chief. This may require several people to accomplish. Then a large fan is positioned by the mouth or throat of the envelope where another person will direct the fan to blow air inside the envelope so it begins to inflate while it’s on its side. Another person is on the opposite side of the balloon at the top or crown position. When the balloon is filling up with air, the pilot will hook up the basket and propane burners to heat the inside of the envelope so the air inside the balloon is hotter than the air outside of it. As hot air rises, the envelope will then stand upright. To keep it from taking off prematurely, the balloon, which is tied securely at all times to its chase vehicles, is also held steady by people holding long ropes at various positions on the Balloon Launch Field.
 
“We look for able bodied people, generally 14 years old or older, who can handle strenuous work that’s a whole lot of fun,” said Terry. “This is a great opportunity for families, co-workers, youth groups. There’s no experience required. The pilot or crew chief will educate you on what’s required to put the balloon up. Not only do we need people for the various stages of inflation, we always need weight to hold the basket in place. A controlled and safe environment is our number one concern.”
 
Being part of the balloon crew doesn’t end when the balloon takes flight.
 
“We need crew to bring it back!” said Terry, whose family has been in ballooning since the 1980s, including her father Larry Konash, who has been the Festival’s balloonmeister for nearly 25 years. “We follow the balloon in flight and assist the pilot with the landing. Then we have to deflate the balloon, pack it up, and return the balloon and passengers back to Solberg Airport.”
 
Before returning to the Festival, there is the post-flight celebration following the landing, which traditionally includes a champagne toast and food or snacks.
 
If you want to see what life is like on the other side of the Balloon Launch Field, click HERE to learn more about becoming a crew member. 
 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - HUSBAND & WIFE FLYING HIGH

Mary Beth and Dick Young were living in Wyoming where Dick was working as a geologist when they received exciting news from Dick’s parents and sister back home in upstate New York about how they viewed and crewed with the six (count ‘em, SIX!) hot air balloons that had shown up at a first-time hot air balloon festival in the Adirondacks. Living 2,000 miles away, that excitement was a bit hard to grasp.
 
Five years later, Mary Beth and Dick moved to New Jersey and joined them at the growing balloon festival. Dick was immediately enamored with ballooning; as he left the field that first morning, he told Mary Beth: “We’ve got to lean more about this!” And they have been ever since that day in 1977.
 
“It is totally awe-inspiring to see life and God’s green-earth from a totally different perspective,” said Dick, who along with Mary Beth own and operate a hot air balloon ride business in Northern New Jersey. “With most aviation, you’re going from Point A to Point B as fast as you can. When you’re in a balloon, you can float right by the sights, pick leaves off the tops of trees, smell the various aromas, hear the sounds of deer running through the woods, birds chirping, dogs barking, all ascending from below. It truly is a magic carpet ride.”
 
 
“Riding in a balloon is a gentle, tranquil, romantic, uplifting experience,” he added. “During the flight there is no shaking or vibrations, which are sensations you’d experience in any other mode of transportation. A balloon ride is subtle; you don’t always feel the balloon move. You’re floating and watching the world pass gently beneath you.”
 
The Youngs are among the handful of married couples who are both FAA certified hot air balloon pilots. 2019 will mark their 24th straight year flying at the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Association with PNC Bank. Many recognize their 60-foot-tall balloon, Going My Way, with its zigzag pattern of mirror-image colors of oranges, green, white, yellow and reds.
 
“The festival provides the very rare opportunity to view and experience a bit of balloon heaven where the sky here is just filled with giant, colorful balloons,” explained Mary Beth. “One looks and absorbs the balloons in the sky. Then you look away and then look back, the painted sky has changed and the image has shifted ever so slightly. It’s a dynamic art form.” 
 
The enjoyment is far more exciting than just watching the balloons in the sky. 
 
“When you take a balloon ride here, you really get to appreciate how special this area is,” said Dick. “You’re floating over varied terrain, farms and fields, forests, rivers, lakes, ponds, and even small towns with church steeples!”
 
“From having 100 balloons in the sky, to having scheduled mass ascensions twice each day, the Festival offers a ballooning experience unlike any other.”
 
The Youngs love flying here at Solberg Airport – it’s also the home flying area for their hot air balloon ride business, A Beautiful Balloon, LLC (www.Balloon-Rides.com), which provides balloon rides and also instruction in teaching people how to fly a hot air balloon. 
 
While some 1,500 people will take a ride in balloon at the Festival this summer, the Youngs have some advice to those who may be hesitant due to a perceived fear of heights.
 
“We say talk to Mary Beth!” explained Dick. “She has acrophobia and can completely identify with these concerns. Apprehensions go away when you realize that riding in a balloon is a gentle experience. Movements are slow. The sides of the balloon basket are typically high so you’re looking out at the horizon and not at the ground directly below you. It’s a safe and secure feeling as you’re just floating on air.” 
 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - DAR FARZAD

We like to think we throw the biggest party of the summer, and hot air balloon pilot Dar Farzad plays a big role in our doing so.
 
Dar has three hot air balloons that fly at the Festival each year including one that holds 12 passengers. His goal is to entertain each passenger during every flight.
 
“We want to make sure everyone has a great time,” said the Binghamton, NY native and owner of Southern Tier Balloon Tours. “In the 12-passenger balloon, we rotate the riders so everyone can chat with me and get a new view throughout the flight. We strive to make each flight memorable. It’s like a party in the sky.”
 
Dar has been involved with hot air balloons almost his entire life. His fascination began when his mother took him to a hot air balloon event in a park near his home when he was 3 years old. 
 
 
“I was a very high energy kid and she said seeing the enormous balloons inflate and take off calmed me down,” said the now 35-year-old. “So we went to watch balloons as often as possible. I started to relate nice weather to ballooning, and when I learned they flew in the very early morning, I couldn’t wait to get up and go see them. Mom was not as thrilled.”
 
He started to get to know the pilots in the area, began crewing for them as he got older, then trained and flew with them for fun. He went on to become a certified pilot in 2004 and it wasn’t until the Southeast Hot Air Balloon Team in Pennsylvania had an opening for a pilot did he think about flying as a career.
 
He started his own business in 2010 and now has three balloons – Butterball, his 12-passenger, 250,000-cubic-foot balloon; Captain America, and Ron Burgundy – and takes passengers on 100-120 flights each year in New York’s Finger Lakes region. He learned of the Festival from other local pilots and has been flying with us regularly since 2007.
 
“They thought it was awesome,” said Dar. “I’ve always loved the entertainment aspect of a balloon in the air and I love how the Festival really promotes ballooning and ties it into everything, even the 5K race on Sunday morning. It’s an exceptionally well-run event and they really promote the sport; it’s amazing that they continue to sell out each flight. Larry Konash and John Piper are exceptional balloonmeisters and the passengers are very knowledgeable, we banter back and forth which makes it even more enjoyable.”
 
Dar also likes getting together and spending time with his fellow hot air balloon pilots from around the country. Among the things they have in common is their love of flying here in Readington.
 
“When we fly on a nice summer day you can see both the New York and Philadelphia skylines, it is breathtaking,” said Dar. “We’re in a basket floating in the sky and can see two of the biggest and most beautiful cities in the world. Like I said, it’s a party in the sky and that view is the icing on the cake.”
 
While he flies all year-around, coming to the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Association with PNC Bank is special to him.
 
“Flying here defines summer for me.”
 
Us, too.
 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - VINNY PANICO

“Everything I’ve done in ballooning can be tied to the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Association with PNC Bank” --- Vinny Panico
 
Yes, like countless thousands of others, Vinny’s fascination with hot air ballooning began here at the Festival.
 
The Whitehouse Station, NJ resident grew up following the balloons as they took to the skies. In 2005, he became a crew member through the Festival’s volunteer crew channel with Terry Konash which further sparked his interest. He continued crewing and flying with local pilots including Sally Mazzocchi, Matt Lidinsky and Jon Radowski, who flew out of Solberg Airport, and was eager to join them in the sky.
 
“I bought my first balloon when I was 17 years old to show them I was serious,” said Panico. But there was one person he didn’t want to know just how serious he was.
 
“I hid it from my mother, I even named it ‘Incognito’,” said Panico with a laugh.
 
Today, Vinny is an established pilot who has flown in more than two dozen festivals, from as far north as Montreal, traveling to South Carolina and as far west as Napa, California. He has also flown in Albuquerque, but his favorite place to fly is right here in Readington.
 
“Flying here is different than flying anywhere else,” said Panico. “You can see both the New York and Philadelphia skylines, you can fly over suburban neighborhoods, and you can see water, beautiful farms and open fields with wildlife. No other place offers the beauty of balloons with all of these things all in one place."
 
“The Festival is my hometown festival and it is special,” he added. “My friends and family are all here. It has so much to offer. One hundred balloons in the sky at the same time, great concerts, great family entertainment. It’s one of maybe five festivals in the world that has this many balloons but it’s the only one with live music, great food and so many different things to do all in one weekend.”
 
Proud of his local roots, Vinny still resides in Whitehouse Station. He works in IT sales for AF Scott, servicing and supporting businesses throughout the New York metropolitan area. He is also in his seventh year serving on the local school board.
 
“I’m proud to fly with so many of the great pilots from this area that have been flying here long before me,” said Panico. “And more importantly, I’m proud of my crew including my dad Sal, and my girlfriend Amanda. It’s like being the lead singer in the band. People may see me because I'm the one up in the balloon but we’re all in this together. I couldn’t do it without them.” 
 
And we’re equally proud of him and his support. He’s flown popular Fox & Friends weathercaster Rick Reichmuth during his live telecasts here and Vinny was one of the featured pilots on the WPIX Morning Show live broadcast from the Balloon Launch Field this past summer. He has become a popular figure for national and local media looking to interview and fly with a pilot who knows the Festival like he grew up here, which he did!

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - CO-BALLOONMEISTER JOHN PIPER

“If you love rainbows, then this is where you want to be because we’re going to fill the sky with color,” said John Piper, who is serving as co-Balloonmeister with Larry Konash of the 36th annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Association with PNC Bank.
 
“What’s really unique about this Festival is that you have the rare opportunity to see this many balloons at once.”
 
Together, balloonmeisters Konash and Piper are in charge of coordinating all balloon activities for all five scheduled mass inflations and ascensions for the more than 100 pilots who take to the skies over the scenic Hunterdon County countryside. They oversee balloon crew teams and coordinate ride activities with our balloon ride operations team.
 
They also conduct extensive briefings including the latest weather conditions with our pilots prior to each of our mass inflations and ascensions and coordinate each flight with New York Air Traffic Control to assure aircraft separation and safety. 
 
“Ballooning is one of the safest means of flying there is; our physical layout at Solberg Airport is open and favorable to flying no matter which way the wind may blow,” said Konash, a veteran pilot of more than 40 years. “We all want to see the balloons in the sky and we work very hard to make sure that our pilots and our patrons enjoy themselves in safe and secure surroundings.”
 
John is an experienced pilot with more than 25 years of experience. He has been flying at the Festival since 2001 and Solberg Airport is his home base for ballooning. 
 
“Not only can we fly in any direction here, but there’s something to do in any direction, too,” said Piper. “You can go some place to see balloons. You can go to a concert. You can go to a craft fair. You can go to a carnival. You can shop at a mom-and-pop store. You can eat great food. Here, you can see and do them all in one place in a great family atmosphere.” 
 
John knows about balloons and family entertainment --- he is the Vice President of the Macy’s Parade Studio, where he oversees the design and production of all balloons, floats and elements for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Parade Studio also produces large scale events for Macy’s such as the upcoming Fourth of July Fireworks, large scale holiday events and numerous spring Flower Shows.
 
His love of everything that flies stems from his childhood.
 
“I’ve been trying to get off this planet all my life,” said Piper. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve been enamored by everything that flies. Kites, planes, balloons.”
 
John took his first hot air balloon ride in 1984. Like so many others, that led to him buying his own balloon. He then became a crew member, then an observer, and then emcee for the Hot Air Balloon Jubilee in Jackson, MI where he subsequently served as the Balloonmeister for 9 years. He received his private hot air balloon license in 1993, his commercial license in 1994. When he moved to New Jersey in 2001, he starting flying here at the Festival. 
 
His feet may be on the ground this year but his spirits will still be sky high. 

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - DEBBY YOUNG

It was never Debby Young’s intention to become a hot air balloon pilot, but her achievements say otherwise.
 
A retired research nurse, her career in hot air balloons started in 1993 as an observer at the National Balloon Championships in Middletown, Ohio. She was immediately hooked and took as many training classes as she could find to learn more about the sport. 
 
Once pilot and mentor Bill Cloninger gave her control of the burners in the summer of 1997, the Ohio native never let go.  She immediately began training, earning her private pilot certificate later that year and her commercial ticket in 1999.
 
Debby's love of ballooning has taken her around the world, flying throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe --- and put her in the history books, too.  
In 2001 she set world records for duration and distance, flying a hot air balloon from Ottumwa, Iowa into Illinois --- a 9½ hour flight that covered 189 miles.
 
Debby was later one of five female pilots who represented the United States in the first Women’s World Championship in Leszno, Poland, in 2014.
 
The most recent addition to her ballooning experience will be flying the Elvis special shaped balloon here at the Festival.
 
This Elvis stands 105 feet tall (the real Elvis was 5’11¾”) and weighs 485 pounds. Complete with long sideburns, 40-foot-wide sunglasses and a sparkling white jump-suit, the Elvis balloon doesn’t hail from Tupelo or Las Vegas, but rather from São Paulo, Brazil.
 
The massive balloon occupies 105,000 cubic feet of space when fully inflated. 
 
“He’s my hunka, hunka ‘burning’ love,” said Young, who has been flying the King for the past five years. “It’s a very cool balloon to fly. The crowds enjoy hearing Elvis’ music when we take off and watching him take to the skies.”

 
Is there anything unusual flying this unique shape?
 
“Elvis is not hard to fly at all; he’s just like any other balloon except we just need more room to land him,” said Young. “I’ve heard great things about the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning including our ability to fly 360 degrees in any direction.”
 
“And just like Elvis, we’ll be putting on a show and entertaining a very large crowd each day,” added Young.
 
To learn more about Elvis, click HERE!

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - PAUL BURROWS

Paul Burrows grew up on the same road where Don Cameron started his world famous Cameron Balloons in Bristol, England. Paul was fascinated watching Don pack up balloons as he walked home from school.
 
Shortly after his 14th birthday, Paul’s father purchased a hot air balloon. Paul began to fly with him and was quickly hooked. He passed his license following his 17th birthday.
 
Today, Paul celebrates 26 years as a hot air balloon pilot. 
 
Growing up in the ‘90s in the United Kingdom, special shaped hot air balloons were the height of advertising fashion, with everything from Rupert the Bear to the Cadbury Caramel Bunny. Since then Paul has had an affinity for special shapes.
 
 
 
With the world’s attention on the Royal Wedding in May, Paul will help us keep the celebration going as he flies the 85-foot-tall Busby the Queens Guard hot air balloon at the festival. 
 
“We just wanted to create something typically British and what is more iconic than a Grenadier Guard from Buckingham Palace?” said Paul.
 
To learn more about Burrows' balloon, click HERE!

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - LUIZ PAULO

Brazil’s Luiz Paulo has flown hot air balloons in 14 countries around the globe, but his favorite spot may be right here in Readington, NJ.
 
“I was delighted when I took off for the first time and was able to see a crowd of 90,000 people applauding my creation,” said Luiz. “At that moment I could feel all of the good energy the Festival has to offer.”
 
Luiz’ passion for balloons began when he was a child and he has dedicated his life to making real flying sculptures. With each new special shaped balloon, he inputs more knowledge and creativity.
 
As a result, he has launched a 105-foot-tall Elvis balloon, a 112-foot-long shark, a 115-foot-tall spaceman and a 115-foot-tall flying pig in recent years here at the Festival.
 
 
 
 
“I built my first hot air balloon in 1999 and my first special shape in 2004. At that time I had no help from computers, only mathematical calculations,” said Luiz.  
 
Today his Air Fly balloon factory in São Paulo, Brazil makes balloons for the international market with his team of manufacturing professionals and designers being able to transform almost any kind of shape into an aircraft. Once the special shape has been determined and defined, the construction of the balloon may take from 35-60 days depending on the level of its complexity.
 
Luiz thanks his best friend and balloon partner, Roy Stinson, for helping make his dream of building hot air balloons into a reality and into his livelihood. 
 
“The best part for me, the best payment for my work,” says Luiz, “is to see children smiling when they look at a shape I built.”
 
We know the feeling.
 
To learn more about Paulo's balloons, click HERE!

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - JOHN CAVIN

John Cavin’s grandfather gave him a book on how to draw cartoons when he was 6 years old. Today his cartoon-drawings take him high in the sky.
 
An Advertising, Design & Commercial Art major at the University of Georgia, John brings his lifelong love of being an artist into the world of hot air ballooning. He owns Cartoon Hot Air Balloons, four special shaped balloons that look like a yellow bird, a skunk, a cat and The Flying Purple People Eater. His newest creation of a flying squirrel is currently being built ahead of its debut flights here at the Festival.
 
“I’ve flown with Howard and Ken many years ago in different parts of the country and I’m very much looking forward to bringing my newest creations to the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning,” said Cavin. “It’s a great showcase event for any balloon pilot.”
 
John’s need for thrills did not begin by soaring in the sky but rather by going around in circles on the ground. After a successful 10-year career racing cars throughout the South, John’s crew chief and lifelong friend moved to Florida where he got into ballooning. John soon followed. It was an adventure from the beginning nearly 40 years ago and John has been flying ever since. 
 
In 1996 John became the owner of one of the most unusual special shaped hot air balloons on the planet. After talking with Sheb Wooley, the recording artist who wrote and sang the 1958 hit song “The Purple People Eater,” John knew he had a great name for his newly acquired eye-catching balloon.
 
The Melbourne Beach, FL resident then took his love of drawing into designing cartoon character shaped balloons and attendees will go “awwww” when his 75-foot-tall Yellow Bird balloon and his brand new 75-foot-tall Rocket the Flying Squirrel make their Festival debuts.
 
To learn more about Cavin's balloons, click HERE!

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - TRACY LEAVER

Like the 165,000 people who come out to the Festival every year, Tracy Leaver was intrigued when she first saw hot air balloons in the sky.
 
She then had the opportunity to help crew for a balloon pilot, and that one time was enough for her to know this was something she wanted to be a part of. 
 
2018 will mark her 20th year as a hot air balloon pilot and the 15th year that she will be flying at the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Association with PNC Bank --- her hometown festival for the Hunterdon County resident.
 
She began her journey in the world of ballooning as a crew member, and will celebrate her 15th anniversary as a pilot at our festival in 2018.
 
“I just love it,” said Leaver. “It’s a hobby for me. It’s a great escape from the job world and everything else you do.”
 

Tracy crewed for a number of years, helping other pilots prepare their balloons for layout, inflation and flight, and in her own words “dabbled as a student pilot.” She eventually trained to become a private hot air balloon pilot and later became a commercial pilot, which requires a minimum of 35 hours of flight time, passing a pair of tests, and a flight test with an FAA examiner.

It was, as many of us have experienced, love at first flight.
 
“I enjoy the experience, every flight is a little different,” said Leaver. “I enjoy sharing the experience with my passengers. Flying in a hot air balloon is different than any other way you can fly. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, you’re going with the wind.”
 
“Flying here at the Festival is great, it’s my home flying area,” added Leaver. “It provides a great opportunity to educate the overall community about ballooning. Solberg Airport is a great place to fly and land. The Festival’s early morning and early evening mass ascensions are two equally wonderful experiences that are also equally different. The mornings are quiet and the lighting has a certain beauty to it. You get to see everything start its day. In the evening, the light changes as the air gets cooler. An evening flight is a great way to end your day.” 
 
“It’s an exciting event and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
 
Leaver’s 70-foot-tall, 90,000-cubic-foot Jurassic Journey balloon is a Festival favorite.
“What kids don’t like dinosaurs?” said Leaver, who purchased the balloon from a friend who had it custom-designed after the first Jurassic Park movie came out. It was a perfect fit for Leaver, who is the founder and executive director of the non-profit Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Hunterdon County, which takes in 1,100-1,200 orphaned and injured animals and reptiles every year, from the smallest chipmunk to the largest bear (www.woodlandswildlife.org).  
 
“I work with animals, it’s one of my favorite movies, it all came together,” explained Leaver, who previously flew a pumpkin-designed balloon. 
 
For those who remain intrigued by the sight of 100 hot air balloons in the sky, Leaver offers this advice about getting off the ground and taking this magic carpet ride in the sky.
 
“Everybody should fly at least once, if not often,” said Leaver, whose balloon basket can hold four passengers. “It’s a great gift, a great experience. Each flight is a little different and one of the reasons we keep doing it!”

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - MICHAEL GLEN

Being in a wheelchair does not ground Michael Glen.
 
The Arizona resident is the world’s first paraplegic pilot. Paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident in 1996, the 42-year-old has been taking to the skies to share his love of flying.
 
“I don’t let anything hold me back in my life; there’s no reason to,” said Glen, who is known as the “Rolling Pilot.” “Just because you’re disabled in any shape or form, don’t let anything hold you back.”
 
“The only thing I do differently than another pilot is that I fly sitting down,” explained Glen. “Once we’re all up in the sky, we’re all equal in the balloons.”
 
The flying experience is no different than being in a regular balloon. In fact, his expertise as a hot air balloon pilot has landed him a prestigious role at this year’s Festival.
 
Michael will be pilot in command of one of this year’s special shaped balloons as he will be flying one of the three Little Bee special shaped balloons. Joey and Lilly, 110 foot tall bumblebees, are the only balloons in the world that hold hands and kiss in mid-flight. Their offspring, Joelly, is 80 feet tall.
 
“There is no better feeling that going to fly,” said Glen. “I always say it’s an awesome way to experience the morning, to go out and enjoy a sunrise and get out and get this experience.”
 
To learn how you can take your own ride in a balloon at the Festival during our tranquil early morning mass ascensions or spectacular sunset ascensions, visit www.balloonfestival.com. 

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - KEN LEOTA

The Festival isn’t the only thing dating back to 1983. That’s when Ken Leota became a pilot. More than 30 years later he’s still flying with us.
 
The Howell, NJ resident got into ballooning the way many have --- by first taking a ride in a friend’s hot air balloon. 
 
“A friend from high school came back from college with a hot air balloon,” recalled Leota. "We thought he was crazy, but he got all his friends together for Thanksgiving and set the balloon up in his parents' backyard. Then we began going to festivals and crewing for him. I had my own balloon and license within two years. It's a real easy addiction.”
 
Ken first began flying here in Readington in 1986. When his now famous tuxedo balloon became available, he purchased it. “I always thought it was a cool looking balloon,” said Leota, who is a regional manager for a transportation company. “It’s sort of a shape but easier to fly!”
 
What makes flying at the Festival so special?
 
“Being able to fly among so many balloons is very exciting, that’s not something that is available in many places,” said the man who has flown in festivals from Canada to Mexico. “It’s a beautiful area. Plus you have the concerts and so many things for kids to do. It’s a lot of fun for everyone. You get the whole family experience here.”   
 
Leota enjoys the many aspects of hot air ballooning, from the camaraderie with the other pilots, the travel and meeting new people.
 
"When we land, we always drop in on someone new and everyone is usually thrilled to have us at their house or property. We have a little get-together at the end and some fun with them. There are a lot of pictures, we get the kids involved," he said, adding that the passengers he flies are usually doing it for the first time, and they get so excited. "To be able to share that experience, I find it to be a privilege to share my love of the sport. It's just special."
 
One of his most memorable flights occurred two years ago when he flew his wife, his daughter, and his then 2½ year old granddaughter. “I had three generations in the basket, the three most important women in my life. That was a wonderful day," he said.

BEHIND THE SCENES: A PILOT’S VIEW - MIKE ZEMLACHENKO

“Flying at the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning brings a ride in a hot air balloon to a whole different level,” said pilot Mike Zemlachenko, who has flown at the Festival for more than 30 years.
 
“There is no other opportunity to get this visual effect, of being up among 100 other balloons,” he added. “You get to hear, feel and sense how monumental this event is. It really adds to your Festival experience.”
 
The owner of Hunterdon Ballooning, Inc. in Flemington, NJ knows all about flying as he spends most of his time in the air. When he’s not piloting a balloon over the scenic Hunterdon County countryside, Mike is a commercial pilot for United Airlines.
 
“When I was growing up there was one balloon that flew near where I lived. I was mesmerized by it. Even after I began flying planes, I never forgot how amazing that balloon was,” he added. “I knew I wanted a career in aviation.”
After graduating college, Mike started providing flight instruction right here at Solberg Airport. He became a pilot for a small commuter airline and then became a corporate pilot. He also took lessons to become a hot air balloon pilot and flew at the very first New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in 1983.
 
“We’ve enjoyed watching the Festival grow into the world class event it has become,” said Zemlachenko. “It’s so organized and well attended, the logistics can’t be appreciated enough. They’ve utilized the space here to have balloons, music, food, crafts and make it comfortable for the public to enjoy it all.”
 
More than 1,000 people will book a hot air balloon ride at the Festival. Mike’s beautiful “Sunburst” balloon has room for 5 passengers and is a great way to enjoy the magic of ballooning or celebrate a special occasion with friends and family.
 
“You can start your day by taking a ride in a balloon or watching them take off, but it’s really just the beginning,” said Zemlachenko. “You can build your entire day or weekend around the balloons but you’ll always find something fun and exciting to do here no matter your age. The entertainment is always world class and the Festival does a great job of catering to individuals, couples, and groups.”

 

“I built my first hot air balloon in 1999 and my first special shape in 2004. At that time I had no help from computers, only mathematical calculations,” said Luiz.  
 
Today his Air Fly balloon factory in São Paulo, Brazil makes balloons for the international market with his team of manufacturing professionals and designers being able to transform almost any kind of shape into an aircraft. Once the special shape has been determined and defined, the construction of the balloon may take from 35-60 days depending on the level of its complexity.
 
Luiz thanks his best friend and balloon partner, Roy Stinson, for helping make his dream of building hot air balloons into a reality and into his livelihood. 
 
“The best part for me, the best payment for my work,” says Luiz, “is to see children smiling when they look at a shape I built.”
 
We know the feeling.
 
They also conduct extensive briefings including the latest weather conditions with our pilots prior to each of our mass inflations and ascensions and coordinate each flight with New York Air Traffic Control to assure aircraft separation and safety. 
 
“Ballooning is one of the safest means of flying there is; our physical layout at Solberg Airport is open and favorable to flying no matter which way the wind may blow,” said Konash, a veteran pilot of more than 40 years. “We all want to see the balloons in the sky and we work very hard to make sure that our pilots and our patrons enjoy themselves in safe and secure surroundings.”
 
John is an experienced pilot with more than 25 years of experience. He has been flying at the Festival since 2001 and Solberg Airport is his home base for ballooning. 
 
“Not only can we fly in any direction here, but there’s something to do in any direction, too,” said Piper. “You can go some place to see balloons. You can go to a concert. You can go to a craft fair. You can go to a carnival. You can shop at a mom-and-pop store. You can eat great food. Here, you can see and do them all in one place in a great family atmosphere.” 
 
John knows about balloons and family entertainment --- he is the Vice President of the Macy’s Parade Studio, where he oversees the design and production of all balloons, floats and elements for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Parade Studio also produces large scale events for Macy’s such as the upcoming Fourth of July Fireworks, large scale holiday events and numerous spring Flower Shows.
 
His love of everything that flies stems from his childhood.
 
“I’ve been trying to get off this planet all my life,” said Piper. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve been enamored by everything that flies. Kites, planes, balloons.”
 
John took his first hot air balloon ride in 1984. Like so many others, that led to him buying his own balloon. He then became a crew member, then an observer, and then emcee for the Hot Air Balloon Jubilee in Jackson, MI. He received his private hot air balloon license in 1993, his commercial license in 1994. When he moved to New Jersey in 2001, he starting flying here at the Festival. 
 
His feet may be on the ground this year but his spirits will still be sky high. 
Dar also likes getting together and spending time with his fellow hot air balloon pilots from around the country. Among the things they have in common is their love of flying here in Readington.
 

“The festival provides the very rare opportunity to view and experience a bit of balloon heaven where the sky here is just filled with giant, colorful balloons,” explained Mary Beth. “One looks and absorbs the balloons in the sky. Then you look away and then look back, the painted sky has changed and the image has shifted ever so slightly. It’s a dynamic art form.” 

The enjoyment is far more exciting than just watching the balloons in the sky.