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.