Meet the pilots: 2019 Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Festival

The popular Smokey Bear balloon will join 22 other hot air balloons this weekend in Steamboat.

Staff report Steamboat Pilot & Today
Mike Bertetto Albuquerque, New Mexico Adams A55S balloon — Nerfer Mike Bertetto’s first balloon ride was in 1978. He crewed for seven years and then moved to auto racing. In 2009, he started crewing again, and in 2015, he flew as a passenger over the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque. After the flight, Bertetto purchased a balloon and started training to become a pilot. A year after becoming a private pilot, he obtained his commercial license.
Frank M. Williams Clearwater, Florida Firefly 7-15 balloon — Bear Claw Balloon Frank Williams has mainly ballooned in Florida and Colorado — in Florida, often over orange groves, and in Colorado, over valleys and with mountain views. Williams said increasing development in both states means finding spots to land is more challenging but still possible. Florida is more windy by far.
Russell Buesing Centennial, Colorado Lindstrand 105 — The Russ Buss — No bio given
Luke Cesnik St. Cloud, Minnesota Cameron N-105 — Freedom Flight V —No bio given
Kelli Cook Greenwood Village, Colorado Lindstrand 77A — High Maintenance —No bio given
Clayton Crouch Denver, Colorado Lindstrand A105 — Finish Line —No bio given
Don Dougherty Colorado Springs, Colorado Head AX8-105 — Dark Sunrise Don Dougherty started ballooning in 1979 at the age of 8. He has flown at events in several states including Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont and Nevada, as well as in Mexico. One of Dougherty’s fondest memories of flying balloons is when he was flying in Vermont and proposed his soul mate, Jen Dougherty.
Jason Gabriel Aurora, Colorado Aerostar S-57A — Spirit of ‘76 Jason Gabriel is serving as a captain in the U.S. Air Force. The Spirit of ’76 crew is made up of many current and former military members and their families. One of Gabriel’s favorite flying activities every year is donating flights to military and first-responder organizations to share his love of ballooning with other community service members.
Gerry Graff Albuquerque, New Mexico Lindstrand A90 — Lofty —No bio given
Skip Howes Colorado Springs, Colorado TBW FF8B — Wildfire Skip Howes has flown in Steamboat Springs for 24 years and says he enjoys the valley flying, scenery and wildlife. One of Howes’ favorite memories was landing over by The Steamboat Grand in 2016, and just underneath them in the aspen trees by the east side service lot was a very nice bull moose. He alerted crew to come see the moose and altered their landing to the south to not disturb the moose, who was unaffected by the flight over him.
Blair Kaufman Tulsa, Oklahoma Aerostar S60A — Stars and Stripes Blair Kaufman has flown hot air balloons in Germany, Dubai and Mexico.
Chris Liberti Highlands Ranch, Colorado Head AX8-105 — Airtight —No bio given
Sam Parks Albuquerque, New Mexico Aerostar N87SB — Smokey Bear Sam Parks’ first gas balloon flight launched from Denver and landed in Quebec after 62 hours aloft and traveling over 1,600 miles. He said they had to be evacuated out of the forest by helicopter, and he called it a great adventure.
Mike Reinert Alta, Iowa Lindstrand 77X — Air Forge —No bio given
Steve Scheer Castle Rock, Colorado Aerostar RX8 — Margarita Steve Scheer started his ballooning career in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Colorado. He has been a pilot since 2003 and flown at rallies all over the Southwest and a few trips to Mexico. He said hot air ballooning is “all about the adventure.”
Nolan Schuler Manitou, Colorado Aerostar RX58 — Bella Colorado Nolan Schuler began flying in 2008 after retiring from the U.S. Air Force.
Jon Seay, Sr. Denver, Colorado Aerostar S60A — Western Spirit Jon Seay, Sr., has flown in many hot air balloon events across the United States and internationally. He has flown gas balloons over the Swiss Alps, landing in a small town in Italy, as well as hot air balloon flights in Mexico, Canada and Switzerland.
Tim Taylor Holladay, Utah Cameron Z105 — Dee IV Tim Taylor and his wife got married in a balloon. He loved the experience so much that he bought the balloon they got married in and has been flying it ever since — for 30 years now.
Gary Whitby Columbia, Missouri TBW FireFly — Ellostar One of Gary Whitby’s favorite hot air balloon memories is flying in the Chicago area with dramatic views of the city skyline as the sun was rising behind the towering skyscrapers.
Mark Whiting Denver, Colorado Aerostar S60A — Big Top Mark Whiting has several favorite hot air balloon experiences in Steamboat Steamboat Springs, including flying in February with snow up to the basket rails and flying in June from Steamboat over Mount Werner to the valley near Walden. He also loves the ever-changing “box” winds up and back down the Yampa Valley with skimming time on Bald Eagle Lake and the Yampa River.
Ken Wolcott Colorado Springs, Colorado Head 8-88 — Toucan Pilot Ken Wolcott received his pilot certificate in 1981 and flew as an instructor in the U.S. Air Force Academy cadet hot air balloon club in the 1970s.
Jonathan Wright Las Vegas, Nevada Head AX7-70R — Unchained Jonathan Wright is a two-time member of Team USA in the FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championships. He’s flown in 12 states and six countries. His longest flight was eight hours and 200 miles and his highest flight was 15,000 feet. The fastest balloon he’s ever flown was 78 mph, the smallest balloon flown was 62,000 cubic feet and the largest flown was 330,000 cubic feet.
Patrick Carter Colorado Springs, Colorado Kubicek BB30Z — Colorado High Patrick Carter said he is honored to be carrying on a tradition his father started in 1973. Carter represents the fourth generation of his family to fly in the Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Festival.