Hot-Air Balloons & Pilot Bios
Bill Baker is a Tyler, Texas native, and still resides there. Bill began his ballooning career back in 1980. He travels worldwide handling corporate balloons, special shapes, and passenger flights for large ride operations. He has accumulated over 7,000 hours of flight time over his career, and still going strong. One of his most interesting commercial piloting jobs was operating a large ride balloon for Buddy Bombard in France and Spain, flying from and around the historic castles. Bill won the European Hot Air Balloon Championships this year, proving that age and experience can be an asset while competing against the younger, well sponsored, racers.
Bill graduated from the University of Texas with a basketball scholarship, and later turned pro. He has a background in heavy equipment and specialty building construction, and is bilingual. He enjoys competitive ballooning, and usually places at or near the top of the scoreboards at most of the competitions he attends.
Branden Bloom will be joining the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival this year for his first time. He is from Indianola, IA and will be flying his Royal Racer Balloon. He is 23 years old and his interest in balloons started when he was twelve years old. The day after he turned 16, he got his license. Branden became one of the youngest pilots to receive Rookie of the Year at the U.S. National Championships in 2012. Then in 2013 he became the youngest pilot in history to win the National Balloon Classic.
Matt Bousselot is from Marion, Iowa and has been flying since 2012. He'll be flying the Point After Balloon. Battle Creek is one of his favorite places to fly because of the wonderful people! Joining Matt on his ballooning adventures are his wife and crew chief Anne, and their fun and friendly crew!
Craig Campbell is from right here in Springfield, Michigan.He has been flying since 2000 and has owned his Hot Ziggity Balloon since 2010. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 2013 and has flown in multiple events. He loves enjoying this wonderful sport with his beautiful wife and Crew Chief, Mindy Campbell and their 3 daughters. He loves this sport so much because of the excitement he sees on the kids' faces when he flies.
Christopher Cliver is from Houston, Texas. He grew up crewing for his dad, Harold "Bubba" Cliver, who also taught Chris to fly, earning his rating in May 2014, with 12 hours total time. Christopher flew his first competition event 2 weeks later, and flew in 5 more competitions in 2014, including the National Balloon Classic, where he was Newcomer of the Year as the top placing rookie, despite having only 20 hours total PIC time and missing the first two days of competition traveling back from the World Championships in Brazil. He also was the BFA's highest ranked Rookie for 2014. In his young ballooning career, he has been afforded the opportunity to fly in many countries around the world including Brazil, Dubai, the Netherlands, Mexico, and Lithuania, where he was the top placing American in the 2016 FAI Junior Hot Air Ballooning World Championship. Chris placed #7 in the 2017 Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Championship.
Harold "Bubba" Cliver is from Lewisville Texas. He has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 1987. When he's not ballooning for pleasure or competition, he is a professional pilot. Bubba is returning for his 9th year to compete in the Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competition. He'll be flying his balloon called Code Red, new picture coming soon. Pictured above is his previous balloon "Bubbaballoon".
Bubba placed #9 in the 2013 Hot-Air Balloon Competition.
Larry Coan is from Livonia, Michigan. He is an engineer for the Ford Motor Company. He is married to his wife Amy and together they have two children, Teri and Robin. Larry has been involved in hot-air ballooning since 1988 when he took his first ride. The rest is history. He has been a balloon pilot since 2005.
The name of his balloon is "Superfluous", pronounced su·PER-flu·ous, which means being more than is sufficient or required; excessive. This will be his 12th year participating in the Battle Creek Field of Flight.
Larry placed #5 in 2017, #10 in 2016 and #4 in the 2011 hot-air balloon competition.
Wes Dickerson is from Milford, MI and will be competing for the first time in the Battle Creek Hot-Air Balloon Championships flying the "Post Sugar Bear" Balloon during the first half of the festival. Tyler Jaques will be flying Sugar Bear the second half of the event. Wes started flying hot-air balloons in 1980. He received his private pilot license in 1981 and his commercial license in 1983. He has flown in all the world events held in Battle Creek as well as many of the international events. Wes is now a retired engineer, enjoying the life of a hot-air balloon pilot.
Rick Ferrall is from Lawrenceville, Georgia. He is Regional Manager for MetroCast Communications. Rick got interested hot air ballooning during the 1981 Balloon Festival in Battle Creek. 19 years later he became a pilot.
His balloon name is "Stairway to Heaven".The Led Zeppelin song came on the radio and the rest is history. Rick has participated in 9 Field of Flight competitions. His crew consists of his wife Debi as crew chief, daughter Katie Graff and son Brian Ferrall.
Originally from Indianola, IA, Aaron Foelske joins us from Channonhon, IL and will be flying in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competition in his balloon called The Hummingbird Balloon. In previous years he flew his balloon called Basket Case. He started flying hot-air balloons in 2001. When Aaron is not flying his balloon, he is an Engineer for Southern Company Gas. Aaron won 3rd place in 2017 & 6th place in the 2016 hot-air balloon championship.
Joe Heartsill, aka "Smokin' Joe", is from San Angelo, Texas. Joe attended the Albuquerque, New Mexico balloon festival in 1978 and knew he had to get one for himself. He purchased his balloon and didn't even know how to fly it! He has been a licensed balloon pilot since the early 1980's. Joe works in Investments. He is married to his wife Nancy and has a daughter named Kate as well as his two sons, Rhett & Lucas.
The name of his balloon is "Texas Racer" simply because he loves to race and is from Texas. This will be his 27th year participating in the event.
Joe placed #1 in 2016, #3 in 2013, #5 in 2012 & #6 in 2011 Hot-Air Balloon Competitions.
Rhett Heartsill's father is Joe Heartsill (Texas Racer). Due to this, Rhett was born into the hot-air ballooning world. Rhett and his wife Jobi are both from San Angelo, Texas. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 2007. When not flying his hot-air balloon, he works as a geologist.
The name of his balloon is "Texas Star", which looks very similar to his dad's balloon. This will be is 9th year participating in the event.
Rhett placed #3 in 2016, #14 in 2013, #3 in 2012 and #12 in 2011 in the hot-air balloon competitions.
Brandon Heavin is from Gatesville, Texas. Brandon's father, Gary taught him how to fly. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 2002 and has over 225. Brandon is currently raising beef cattle and farming - "Someone has to feed the people!"
The name of his balloon is "Ms B Heavin" which is a play on the 'infamous' Heavin name and for his wife, Amy.
This will be his 8th year participating in the event. His father, Gary Heavin, also pilots the "Almost Heavin" balloon. Brandon and his wife Amy crew for his balloon.
Brandon placed #12 in 2014 and #15 in the 2013 Hot-Air Balloon Competitions.
Gary Heavin has been flying hot-air balloons for over 30 years. He is the founder of Curves International, the world's largest fitness franchise and is currently the Chair of the Board for Curves and Jenny Craig. He resides on his ranch in central Texas with his wife and crew chief Diane. They have four children and four grandchildren. Gary has a passion for flying which includes helicopters and jet aircraft. His balloon name, Almost Heaven, is a play on his last name.
Gary placed #4 in 2013 & #10 in 2012 hot-air balloon competitions.
Tyler Jaques is from Battle Creek, Michigan. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 2007. This will be Tyler's 9th year competing in the event but he has crewed at the event since he was a child. He became interested in hot-air ballooning because his father, Dave Jaques, was also a pilot of the Post Cutting Edge balloon before his retirement. Tyler usually flies the "Post - Cutting Edge" Balloon, but this year he'll be sharing the flight time with Wes Dickerson, flying the "Post Sugar Bear" Balloon the second half of the festival. He previously flew the red and white Post 2 balloon. His crew is made up of Post Balloon Club members as well as local volunteers.
Tyler is presently a manager at Meijer and owns his own hot-air balloon ride company called BC Balloon Rides where he pilots his balloon called Sapphire. He has a daughter named Brittney and his girlfriend's name is Erica Brandt.
LIKE the BC Balloon Rides Facebook Page.
LIKE the Post Balloon Club Facebook Page.
Kenny Jay will be flying his Mai'ken Memories balloon for the second time in this year's Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival. He got his LTA private license in 2010 and has enjoyed competitive flying in 11 different states.
Kevin Kamp has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 2002, but has been around the sport since 1986 when a friend asked him to come crew for Susan Stamats, another long time participant in the Field of Flight. Kevin spent 16 years as crew before getting his own balloon and pilot's license. Kevin and his family reside in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and he makes his living as a Professional Photographer. The name of Kevin's balloon is "Linn-'Air'-ea". This will be his 6th year participating in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competition.
Kelli Keller is from LaQuinta, CA & will be joining us for the first time this year. She has been flying hot-air balloons since 1996 and has had the opportunity to share her balloon in magazine shoots, commercials, television shows, movies and her favorite is sharing her balloon with the children at summer camps, churches and schools. After owning a balloon ride business for 20 years, she transitioned to hot-air ballooning competition. In 2017, at the US Nationals Ballooning Championship, Kelli was Rookie of the Year & also received the Top Female Pilot award, earning her a spot in the Women’s World Hot Air Ballooning Championships in Poland this August.
Rick Kerber is from Wayland, Michigan. Rick came from a family of balloonists. He started flying hot-air balloons when he was 16. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 2002. Rick has been a rental manager at Michigan CAT for over 32 years. He is married to his wife Cris and has two daughters, Jennie & Megan.
Rick flies the Michigan CAT/The Cat Rental Store Balloon. This will be his 12th year participating in the event. Rick's family will be his crew. Rick placed #11 in 2017, #9 in 2016 and #15 in the 2012 Field of Flight hot-air balloon competition. Welcome back Rick!
Jayson Kimball is from Napa, CA and is the owner & operator of Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides in Northern California and will be flying his Out of the Blue Balloon. A second-generation balloon pilot, he's been around Ballooning his whole life. He took his first balloon flight at 6 months old, and have been obsessed with Ballooning ever since. This will be Jayson's 2nd year participating in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival.
Jeremy King was born and raised in Indianola Iowa, where the National Hot-Air Balloon Championships used to be held, so he has been around the hot-air ballooning world all his life. He started as a baby being pulled around the balloon field in a wagon while his mother sold programs. As he got older he was able to sell programs himself. At the age of 14 he signed up to crew and right there knew he wanted to be a pilot someday. It took many years of crewing and flying with friends before he decided to go get a balloon and license himself.
In 2003 Jeremy started training in a friend's balloon. In early 2004 Jeremy talked his crew chief into driving to Florida to pick up a balloon. He has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 2005 and he received his commercial license in June 2008. Now he is training some of his crew to become pilots.
Jeremy is a handyman as well as the proud dad of his son, Cooper Wade King. He will be flying a new balloon this year and he flies for "HBC Specialized Contracting". Jeremy truly loves to be in the air and see the faces of people when he comes floating by. His crew consists of Brad Morris and Jean & Courtney Grant. This will be his 9th year participating the event. Jeremy placed #13 in the 2017 Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Championship.
Janet Lutkus lives in Medina, Ohio with her husband Jerry and their 13-year-old daughter Grace. She started out ballooning by crewing in 1985 for her sisters and a great friend. Janet was coaxed into learning to fly in 1992 and received her commercial rating in 1997. She looks forward to flying the event again this year. Janet's crew consists of her family, great friends and people who want to get involved with ballooning. Hot-Air-Ballooning is such a great sport to share with people.
Michael "One Burn Too Many Mike" Moore is from Augusta, Michigan. He got into ballooning by crewing for Dale Wilson, Lori, his wife, actually is the one that named my balloon, Shenanigans. After buying my balloon in 2002, she asked if I had a name for it yet and I replied, "I was going to treat it like a new puppy. After you have it for a while, a name usually just comes to you." She said, "Good idea cause Lord knows the SHENANIGANS you're gonna pull...!" And the rest is history.
The Battle Creek event is, of course, my favorite event being the first I ever attended, so I look forward to participating every year, especially now that I'm retired. Join the Hot Air Balloon Floaters Association group on Facebook.
Patrick Nilz is from Marana, AZ and will be flying for the first time in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival. His balloon name is Listo.
Rob Nutting, from Carlisle, IA, will be competing for the first time in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Championships in his Wicked Balloon. At age 5, Rob had his first hot-air balloon flight and at age 21 received his Pilot License. Rob is 16 years active duty Air Force, married and has two wonderful children. Thank you for your service and good luck in the competitions!
Jeff Pestun is from Holland, Michigan and is a native of Battle Creek area watching hot-air balloons and then crewing his first balloon when he was only 8 years old. He has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 1999 with over 400 hours as pilot-in-command of a balloon. He presently works in for Hope College. Jeff is married to his wife Robyn and has two children, Andrew and Allison. The name of his balloon is "Special Purpose" which is a reference to the movie "The Jerk". This will be his 15th year participating in the Field of Flight Balloon Competition. Jeff is a fan of Trace Christenson and admirer of Amy Coan and Erica Hahn (the famous balloonists not the TV character that may or may not be based on her).
Jeff placed #1 in 2017, #4 in 2011, #11 in 2013 & 2012 and #9 in 2011 in the Field of Flight hot-air balloon competitions.
Shawn Raya is from Oxford, Michigan. Shawn grew up with his dad flying the Father & Son Construction balloon. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 1987. Shawn is a purchasing manager at RHK Technology. He has a wife named Sandra and 4 kids; Joshua, Audrianna, Ashley & Victoria.
Shawn will be flying a new balloon with the "Sullair" banner. This will be his 13th year participating in the event. Shawn's family helps him crew the balloon.
Shawn has placed in the top 10 for the last several years, placing #7 in 2016, #4 in 2015, #5 in 2014, #7 in 2013, #8 in 2012 and #3 in 2011 in the hot-air balloon competitions.
Eric Reeder is from Ravenna, Michigan. He, his wife Amy and two children, Chloe & Owen, love to do ballooning as a family. Eric has been around ballooning his entire life, spending many years crewing for close family friends Doug & Karen Mills. He was even able to spend a month ballooning in Africa with the Mills family in 1999. After many years of loving the sport he finally decided it was his time and got his Private Balloon Pilot License in 2014. We have since spent the past 3 1/2 years taking friends and family up in our beautiful balloon. Eric loves sharing his passion for ballooning with others and we are honored and look forward to our 2nd time flying at the Battle Creek Hot-Air Balloon Championships. He will be flying a brand new balloon this year called Mezmerized Balloon.
Daniel Reusch is from Peoria, Illinois and will be participating in his 3rd Battle Creek Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competition. He has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 2005. When Daniel is not flying his balloon he is employed as a Technician for an Engineering Company. This year he will be flying his balloon called Sub Divo. His previous balloon was Why Knot.
Pat Rolfe is from Battle Creek, Michigan. He has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 2006. He is a retired maintenance engineer for the Kellogg Company. He has a wife named Cindy and 4 children; Patrick, Jennifer, Michael & Russell. He also has three grandchildren named Trevor, Madison and Natalie. He will be flying the Post Cutting Edge Balloon. This is Pat's 33nd year participating in the Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competition in any way, shape or form. Pat crewed for Dave Emmeret for 25 years and now the tables have turned and Dave, who is now a retired balloon pilot after 30 years of flying, is Pat's crew chief.
Steve Sitko is from Jackson, MI and will be flying again this year in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloons Festival in his Maveryx balloon. He placed 1st in the 2016 Jackson Hot-Air Jubilee. Steve loves to fly and see the reactions from the kids of all ages upon landing his balloon.
Chris Smart, also known as CCD (Chris Can Do), is from Huntington, Indiana. Chris returns to Battle Creek for his 6th year flying his Dream Racer Balloon with the Blu Fish Consulting banner. He got into hot-air ballooning as a family hobby, and for the love of flight over 25 years ago. He has many fond memories from hot-air ballooning. He loves flying with his brothers from other mothers, as they are all Top Dogs in his eyes.
Chris has finished in the top 10 many times since starting in Battle Creek, placing #6 in 2017, #9 in 2014 & #6 in 2013 & in 2012 in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competition.
Susan Stamats is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She saw a hot-air balloon and then she was hooked. She now has been a licensed balloon pilot since 1986. Susan flies the "Alley Cat" balloon. She has participated in every event at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Hot-Air Balloon Competitions except one. She says her balloon crew is the Best in the World!
Chuck Walz is from Munith, Michigan. Before becoming a pilot, Chuck was on a balloon crew. He has been a licensed hot-air balloon pilot since 1993. Chuck is retired from Jackson County Road Commission. He has a wife named Cindy and has a son named Brian. He has participated in this event for many years. He will be flying the "Lucky Max" balloon. Chuck placed #13 in the 2013 Hot-Air Balloon Competition.
Justin Wilkinson is from Bermuda Dunes, CA and will be competing for the first time in the Battle Creek Hot-Air Balloon Championships flying his 'Merica Balloon. He has been flying hot-air balloons for the majority of his life. He received his private license at the age of 17 and commercial license at 18. Since 2004, he has flown passenger rides for his dad's company, Fantasy Balloon Flights. Justin has flown everything from 30,000 cubic foot hopper to a 300,000 cubic foot 16 passenger ride balloon, but his favorite is flying his dad's Lindstrand Racer.
Steve Wilkinson has been a hot-air balloon pilot for 38 years and is from Palm Desert, CA and will be flying his Limonchello Lemon Balloon in his 2nd Battle Creek Field of Flight Balloon Championship. Steve is a restaurant owner, Cafe Italia. He also is a commercial balloon ride operator at Fantasy Balloon Flights.
Dale "Captain Boomerang" Wilson is from Augusta, Michigan. After crewing in the 1981 World's Championship, he bought his first hot-air balloon in 1987. He has been a licensed balloon pilot since 1988. He is retired from AT&T. His wife's name is Lori. His mother-in-law came up with the name of his balloon "Seventh Heaven". This will be his 34th year participating in the Battle Creek event. Dale's crew consists of members with an average age in the 60's.