Al Nels, from Beavercreek, Ohio, launched his first hot-air balloon at age 11 followed shortly thereafter with a hydrogen balloon. Those first balloons were made from dry-cleaning bags, the former powered by birthday candles. After getting his first ride in a hot-air balloon while in college, he embraced the sport and earned his commercial license about a month after that first ride. After a few years of sport ballooning Al entered competitive ballooning with gusto. Over the years he has won multiple United States Nationals and World Championships in hot-air balloons. He has served as competition director for multiple events and as the Team Manager for the US Team at several World Championships. Al holds commercial ratings for balloons (gas and hot-air) and instrument airplane. He is a recent recipient of the Ed Yost Master Pilot Award.