July 27-29 2018

Solberg Airport - Readington, NJ 973-882-5464

Countdown to Festival Fun


Until the 2018
 Quick Chek New Jersey
Festival of Ballooning!



Laurie Berkner 2018

A Pilot's View



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!”



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. 



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.



Though he won’t be painted green, pilot Stan Hess is a familiar face among pilots here as he flown at the Festival for many years. 2017 marks the third year his WICKED hot air balloon will “Defy Gravity.”
The veteran balloonist and U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team pilot has provided a first-class balloon experience for countless thousands of ballooning enthusiasts. For more than 30 years Stan’s dedication to the sport has earned him a place of distinction among his peers.
“I took my first flight in a hot air balloon more than 30 years ago, and I never stopped,” said Hess, who flies out of  Lancaster, Chester and Bucks County, PA. “Within six months of my first flight, I bought my first balloon and became a commercially- rated pilot within that same year. And I’ve never looked back.”
Stan’s experiences include night flights, dawn patrol, handicap tethers, parachute drops, hang gliding drops and releases. He counts flying balloons in Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Yugoslavia, Austria, France – and Readington - among life’s highlights and wonderful adventures.
Everything aside, Stan says it is not about him, but about the balloons and the people who he has met at every landing, and the passengers, participants and crew who have joined him during these times. 
“After many thousands of flights, I cannot explain the attraction and affection that human beings, young and old, have toward hot air balloons. I consider it an honor to represent ballooning, and flight in a hot air balloon, to everyone I encounter.”


Up, up and away. But we don’t go anywhere in our beautiful balloons unless Larry Konash says so. 
Larry is the Festival’s Balloonmeister. He is in charge of coordinating all balloon activities for all five scheduled mass inflations and ascensions for the more than 100 pilots who will be taking to the skies over the scenic Hunterdon County countryside. He also oversees balloon crew teams and coordinates ride activities with Brian Trapp and Laurie Givin, who are in charge of our balloon ride operations.
Larry is an experienced pilot with more than 40 years of experience. He has logged more than 3,200 hours in the air and is well respected on both the festival side and the corporate side of ballooning. His ongoing organization and managing of balloon activities has taken him to England, France, Sweden, China and Canada. Somehow he always manages to find his way back. 
Larry and his team conduct extensive briefings including the latest weather conditions with our pilots prior to each of our mass inflations and ascensions. He also coordinates 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. 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. 


“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.”