Pilot bios

Get the stories behind the balloons and learn a bit about the pilots who fly them.

Darren Kling


From a very young age I’ve always had a strong interest in aviation. In 1989, I took my first ride in a balloon and was introduced to a form of flight far different from anything I had experienced before. In 1993 I received my commercial license and started Big Sky Balloon Co. providing balloon rides and corporate advertising in NW Montana. In 2000 I relocated my business to Portland, OR and currently operate a contract for RE/MAX in the Pacific Northwest region. I very much enjoy traveling around this part of the country meeting other balloon pilots and sharing with people the great experiences that come from flying hot air balloons. What I love most about ballooning is its unique ability to totally excite and captivate people, which is what always makes it fun and exciting for me.



Chris Whitefield

Heaven Bound

Chris took his first hot air balloon ride in September, 2007, with Alan Sanderson and was immediately hooked. He purchased his first balloon the following spring with his uncle, Jason Fast, and began training with Marianne LeDoux. He got his private license in September 2008 and continued sharing a balloon with Jason through 2009. Chris flew his second balloon during 2010 and, with instruction from Carmen Blakely, achieved a commercial rating in October. In the spring of 2011, he and his wife Jennifer built their current balloon, Heaven Bound, with guidance from Bob and Marianne LeDoux. Chris and Jennifer live in the Albany area.




Koh Morai


I am predominantly a sport flyer but also provide some instruction. I also enjoy aerostat construction, having completed an AX-5. One of my other joys in LTA aviation is working on, executing, and helping others with long distance, long duration, and high altitude flights. It has been my pleasure to be the launch master for 5 world records set over 3 flights. Yet time spent aloft is still the biggest thrill after all these years. The people you meet and become involved with are right up there with flying.

From 1991-1998 I was involved as launch crew, launch master, and consultant for several trans-global balloon attempts. These included Earthwinds Hilton, Virgin Global Challenge, ICO Global Challenge, and Global Hilton. From 2000 – 2005 I was involved with scientific balloon and systems design and flight operations for a small private firm supporting various government and university agencies. This work included designs and flights in earth atmosphere, near space, and planetary exploration.

mike kijak

tom cat

I have been flying since 1993. I have owned and operated "Up and Away Ballooning" in Sonoma, CO for the last 16 years. I sold my biz and "retired".


laura hancock

morning glory

Morning Glory is a 1978 Raven Rally, flown by Balloonmeister, Laura Hancock of Newberg, OR. Laura has been ballooning since 1992 and co-owns Morning Glory with her Crew Chief, Gerald Bales.

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John Cavin

terry mouse

After driving race cars for 10 years, John was looking for an inexpensive way to get the same thrill. That's when in 1979, he came upon Hot Air Balloon racing. It was an adventure from the beginning and John has been flying ever since.

In 1996, John became the owner of one of the most unusual balloons on the planet. In fact, the balloon looks as if it came from another planet. After talking with Shep Wooley, the recording artist that wrote and sang the 1958 hit song, “Flying Purple People Eater" John knew he had a great name for his unique, eye-catching, balloon.

Last year John added another eye-catching balloon to his air force. Spunky the skunk. Spunky and the Eater invade 18 Hot Air Balloon Festivals a year to thrill kids of all ages.



peter dunrud

Flying Purple People Eater

Ballooning has always been part of my life, and always will be. I started flying at the ripe age of 14 and it's still breathtaking. "Every day is a new adventure." I purchased my first balloon when I was 17 and continued building my hours. I enjoy sharing a life long memory with my passengers, something they've never forget, the gift of free fight. I have been a commercial pilot for 10 years and I am looking forward for many more to come. When I'm not flying balloons, I am serving my community as a Firefighter/EMT. I am living my dream.


Brann Smith


My first experience with Hot Air Ballooning was 16 years ago, a flight in Portland, Oregon. It then became my passion as I soon realized that it is such an amazing and unique sport. In 1999 I completed my private and commercial pilot training and began flying in Bend, Oregon with my own ride company. I believe Hot Air Ballooning is not just about flying but the people you encounter. Currently with my team/crew we have a ride business in Chico, California.

Alan Sanderson

high hopes

Alan Sanderson started crewing for a co-worker’s balloon in the mid 1980s. After several years participation as a crew member, he decided to become a pilot. He trained with Mick Farnham and several other pilots in the Morgan Hill and Gilroy area south of San Jose, California where he earned his commercial balloon pilot certificate in 1992. He has flown many events in the Western US, including Albuquerque, NM, Reno, NV, Albany, and Tigard, OR.

He has logged more than 770 hours piloting balloons, and now lives in Albany, OR.

In addition to a commercial pilot certificate, he also holds a FAA repairman certificate, and he owns and operates Lindan Hot Air Service Center, a hot air balloon repair station certificated under FAA Part 145 and located in Albany, Oregon. He has attended factory maintenance training for Aerostar International, Cameron Balloons, Firefly and Galaxy Balloons, Kubicek Balloons, and Lindstrand Balloons. His repair is certificated to repair and inspect these brands, as well as several other brands. Specific experimental balloons can be added upon request.

vic johnson


Vic’s balloon training began in High School most often with the large ride companies in both Washington and Alaska. Equally comfortable in large or small balloons, Vic enjoys sharing his love of flying with passengers and students he teaches to fly. Vic has flown corporate balloons and special shapes across the country working for and owning several balloon ride and promotion companies over the years. In addition to ‘every day’ flying, Vic has travelled to Germany to train for and later receive his gas balloon rating, received the prestigious Montgolfiere Diplome from the FAI for the only balloon flight directly over the top of Mount Rainier to an altitude over 20,000’, and he is a licensed balloon repairman. The bottom line is Vic loves to fly and his passion for ballooning shows in all that he has accomplished during his 33+ year ballooning career.

Cheryl Isaacs

la brisa del mar

My first flight in a hot air balloon was in Napa Valley, California in 1986 when the area was still open and friendly to balloons.  I remember the beauty of the area and the vineyards below the thin layer of low clouds in the valley.  Our flight was absolutely beautiful, in the calm serene green hills of Napa.  Once the flight was over I realized I was hooked on ballooning.

In 1999 I decided that it was more fun flying than crewing all the time so a couple of friends and I got together for pilot training.  We purchased our first balloon together and received our training.  In 2000 we all received our private pilot certificates in our little 54,000 2 person balloon. 

I completed my commercial training the following year and have been flying since.  I am able to attend about 10 rallies each year some as far away as Gallup, New Mexico and as close as my home town Tigard, Oregon.  I am now part owner in a Cameron 84 and an Ultra Magic 90.

Kearney Davis

Kearney's Mistress

Hi, my name is Kearney Davis and I fly Kearney’s Mistrees, my wife named the balloon, as it is the only thing I can spend money on other than her. We have flown in this event and many others across the nation and love ballooning. We recently moved to Battle Ground, Wa, so this event so this event would be a great one as the travel time is short. I have been involved in ballooning for 25 years and a pilot for 17 years.

Laurie Cheatham


My ballooning experience started with a camera around 1986. I was very interested in photography and had an interest in balloons. My husband and I would always stop to take pictures whenever we saw balloons on our early morning drives Knowing that Albuquerque was the largest balloon festival in the world and the most photographed event in the world, I insisted that we go. We came home hooked on ballooning. Through a friend we started crewing for a local pilot and eventually became regular crew for him. It was this pilot who encouraged me to get my pilot's license thinking I should take my ballooning experience to the next level. In 1991 with the help of my dad, I purchased my first balloon and got my license. I eventually went on to get my commercial license and now own a fleet of three balloons. I have found ballooning to be challenging, rewarding and peaceful all at once. I never tire of sharing the sport with new people and have made some great friends over the years.

Jesse Rafn

Morning Melody

Jesse Rafn has been involved with the sport of ballooning since before he could walk or talk. Jesse always knew that he wanted to do more than crew. While he was still little dreamt of being a pilot, building his own little “hot-air balloon” with wooden pallets in his garage. However, his creative spirit did not stop there. When Jesse turned 18, he finally received his long, sought-after private balloon license. He then earned his commercial license in 2011 and started his business, “Floatin’ on Air”.

Today, you can find him at a number of festivals throughout the Northwest, always easy to spot in his beautiful rainbow swirl balloon called Morning Melody. Though he is involved in many festivals, he has a particular fondness for Tigard, the festival that first sparked the light of ballooning in him.



Laurence Dushane


I started ballooning in 1984 crewing for a friend of my mom’s in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I continued crewing for years with many different balloons. In 2012, I bit the bullet and bought a Cameron Balloon system. I started training in December of 2012 and completed my certificate in September 2014. I have flown Rallies, Fiestas and Festivals all over New Mexico. My job transferred me to Oregon this year and so begins the new chapter of my flying.

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Eliav runs Seattle Ballooning, a luxury hot air balloon operation flying directly in front of Mt. Rainier. He loves the art of ballooning and brings a refreshing excitement to the sport. Every day he has three goals: Provide an amazing flight for his guests, meet famous people by landing his balloon on the front lawns, and opening a bottle of champagne with a single swing of a sword. After his first flight, his instructor taught him the secret to the perfect balloon flight: Finish each flight with triple cream brie, a freshly baked baguette, and good aged wine or champagne. He learned to fly balloons on the outskirts of Nashville TN, and over the last eight years has launched balloons in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Phoenix, Utah, and Thailand. His energy is contagious, and we are excited to have him part of the Tigard Balloon Festival.  

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I have been flying since 1985. My wife, Becky, is my crew chief. I love taking people for their first flight by balloon and sharing a unique experience. When we are not flying, my wife and I work as senior paramedics in the Multnomah County 911 EMS in the Portland metro area.