Slater’s Jennifer Quick has a fear of heights, but you would never believe that when you read this story.
Jennifer and her aunt, Carol Sherman of the Kansas City area, have a love of hot air balloons. The only issue that Jennifer had was getting over her fear of heights. After all, most hot air balloons typically fly at the highest, 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet.
Jennifer grew up in Indianola, a mere six blocks from where the National Hot Air Balloon Classic would take place. She eventually met her husband, Brian Quick of Huxley, and now the family lives in Slater. Jennifer’s Aunt Carol introduced her to flying in the 70 feet high balloons when she was in the fifth grade.
“I consider my first flight with my aunt as my ‘Meet My Fear Flight’ after flying for almost two hours,” she said. “We went up in my aunt’s balloon, “USS Defiant,” during one of the Classics. We took off and almost two hours later, we landed in a field southeast of Milo.”
What Jennifer found a bit unsettling was the loudness of the burner in the balloon. That all eventually faded away to the beauty around her.
“It was beautiful up there,” she explained. “I had always been afraid of heights, and here I was up that high in the sky in a basket with a huge balloon above me. It’s not like being scared of being on a ladder up high. I enjoyed the flight so much, I knew that there would be many, many more.”
Carol Sherman became interested in hot air ballooning while attending the U.S. Nationals in Indianola back in 1975. She now instructs students on how to pilot the 65,000 cubic feet ships.
“A lot of competitors fly the smaller balloons called Racers,” she told. “The majority of balloons are 76,000 cubic feet. You can have a pilot and two to three passengers in a balloon that size. Basket size is very important too. “
Sherman’s balloon is the USS Defiant. She tells that it is a special edition, a 65,000 cubic feet balloon with a 3.9 basket and holds four tanks.
“I am a huge Star Trek fan and wanted to name my balloon the Enterprise, but I settled on Defiant, the ship that disappeared in the Tholian Web, “she tells. “Thankfully, I have never disappeared totally.”
Jennifer tells that she loves flying in the clouds, especially low ones.
“One time we were flying in the low clouds in Colorado and it was just white all around us,” she tells. “It’s so cool to just be moving what felt like very slowly amongst the clouds. You have this sensation of standing still. When you can see the ground, you can tell that you are moving, but when you look out the side of the basket, it just seems so still, like you are not moving at all.”
According to Sherman, it takes a crew to get the balloon off the ground and back down again as well.
“You need a crew of four or five people, a chase vehicle, inflator fans, helium radios, aircraft radios depending on where you fly and how close to operating airports you might be,” she explains. “Landowner relations are paramount and one of the most important things that you learn when you are flying. Most folks are happy to see you and will let you land on their property.”
The crew unloads everything from the trailer and truck, they put radios and maps and iPads in the basket of the balloon — whatever you need to navigate. It’s then that the pilot checks the system to make sure that everything is working as it should.
Getting started is a major undertaking.
Sherman explained that the balloon is laid out the direction that the winds are blowing and then the fan or fans are started for a cold inflation. The crew and pilot do further rigging and inspection. If all is good, the pilot lights the burner and fires the flame into the balloon. As the envelope heats up, it rises off the ground until it is standing up, at which time the passengers get in and the pilot heats the balloon until it takes off.
“Anyone can learn to pilot a balloon,” tells Sherman. “If they have no limiting health conditions, taking lessons from a commercial balloon pilot can get you on your way to piloting. You do need a certificate, initially a student certificate, then a private certificate. If you want to instruct or take paid rides, you have to have a commercial certificate. These are specific to hot air balloons; they are called certificates instead of licenses.”
Jennifer said that she loves to fly in the morning.
“It is a lot of fun and I love to fly in the morning when it’s peaceful and the shadows you see are amazing”, said Jennifer. “Some people think it is scary, but it’s so peaceful and quiet, there is nothing like it.”
Sherman told that balloons range in price from $30,000 to $60,000 and above.
“Used systems, usually what a new pilot will purchase, range from $5,000 to $9,000, depending on the amount of equipment that you get with the balloon,” she said.
Jennifer’s son Chad enjoys flying with his great aunt, too.
Sherman is currently a flight instructor at Central Missouri University, instructing the head of the aviation maintenance department that flies the university’s balloon.
“Chad is 11 ½ years old and he really enjoys flying in the balloons,” told Jennifer. “He wants to be a hot air balloon pilot someday. Our daughter is not as excited about it. She is seven, but you have to be able to see over the basket to fly and she just doesn’t have any interest in that.”
“Not many can fly these patrols at the National Competition, as you have to have night lighting.” She said. “One time we inflated Defiant inside Kemper Arena in Kansas City for a half-time show at a Kansas City Comets soccer game. And one time I flew over the 61 Country Concert when Garth Brooks was in concert in Kansas City.”
It doesn’t get much better for making memories than being 3,000 feet in the air in a hot air balloon.
“There have been lots of flights and lots of memories,” said Sherman.
And for Jennifer Quick of Slater, she totally agrees. “I am hoping to go flying with my aunt over July 4th,” she added.