Pilot bios

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


bill baker


I began my ballooning career back in 1980. I travel worldwide handling corporate balloons, special shapes, and passenger flights for large ride operations. I have accumulated over 7,000 hours of flight time over my career, and still going strong. One of my 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. This year I won the European Hot Air Balloon Championships, proving that age and experience can be an asset while competing against the younger, well sponsored, racers.



erik bogdanowicz

lighten up

I have been a pilot for 13 years and have 2 balloons. I have flown in most of the western states. Ballooning is a family event for us, and something I hope to pass down to our boys. We love to share our love for ballooning with as many people as we can.





john cavin

rocket the flying squirrel

After driving race cars for 10 years, I was looking for an inexpensive way to get the same thrill. That's when in 1979, I came upon Hot Air Balloon racing. It was an adventure from the beginning and I have been flying ever since. In 1996, I 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", I knew I had a great name for his unique, eye-catching, balloon.  


laurie Cheatham


My ballooning experience started with a camera around 1986. 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. It was this pilot who encouraged me to get my pilot's license. 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.



j kearney davis

Kearney's mistress

My interest in ballooning began with crewing in the Great Reno Balloon Race approximately 30 years ago. I started my pilot training in 1996, with my pilot training being completed in January of 1997. Then in 2015 I went on and certified and became a commercial pilot. I have been flying ever since. My family and I enjoy traveling to and participating in balloon rallies. We have had the opportunity to fly in Washington, Oregon, Nevada Arizona, New Mexico, California, Wyoming, and Puerto Vallarta Mexico. My wife Deanna named the balloon Kearney’s Mistress as she said it is the only thing I am allowed to spend money on other that her. So my balloon is my Mistress.


david dunrud

terry mouse

I grew up around the sport of ballooning. My aunt has been flying balloons for over 35 years and she sparked my interest at the age of two. At age 11 I started crewing for balloons and at the age of 14 I received my student certificate…and the rest is history. I’m currently 32 and a commercial pilot. I enjoy sharing this one of a kind experience with others and creating a lasting memory they’ll never forget. When I’m not in the air, I’m servicing my community as a Firefighter EMT.



Cheryl isaacs

la brisa del mar

In 1996 I started crewing for a large balloon company in the valley and absolutely loved it. In 1999 I decided to learn how to fly so I started training with a couple friends and we bought our first balloon together. I became a private pilot in 1999 and passed my commercial in 2000. I fly commercially with Vista Balloons in Newberg, Oregon and can fly up to a 140K with passengers. I also travel with my own balloon to various rallies every year and really enjoy the social events and the flying.


dave justice

la jolla

I have been around hot air balloons for over 30 years. I never gave up the dream of being a pilot. I have had my own balloon since 2007 and have flown around the Willamette Valley and at dozens of balloon rallies in the Northwest. I have my commercial certificate and in 2015 received the "Aeronaut of the Year" award from the Willamette Aerostat Society. To me, giving others the thrill of flying in a balloon is a great pleasure. Often, it is their first flight, and one they will always remember.



ernie lesley

alternate universe

I took my first balloon ride in Anchorage, AK and was instantly hooked on ballooning. I returned to Portland and began working as a ground crew member for Greg Ashton and Kong Shields at Oregon Balloon Adventures, and John Cox at Northwest Aviation. After obtaining my commercial rating I flew as the chief pilot for Northwest Aviation doing scenic flights and giving flight instruction. I have been flying since 1986. 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 Becky and I work as Senior Paramedics in the Multnomah County 911 EMS in the Portland Metro area.



jack loflin


My first stab at piloting was when I was 6 years old. It was a small “line controlled” airplane with a 13-inch wingspan. No passengers! At age 18 I started flying “real” airplanes. Over the last 19 years, I have logged over 5,000 hours flying various aircraft. Although I started with airplanes, I now also fly helicopters, gliders and hot air balloons. I hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and I am a certified flight instructor for airplanes, helicopters and balloons. My day job is as an airplane and helicopter test pilot.


koh murai


I am predominantly a sport flyer, but also provide some instruction. I also enjoy aerostat construction with my first effort an AX-5. One of my other joys in LTA aviation is working on, executing and helping others with the technical and operational aspects of long distance, long duration and high-altitude flights. Weather, meteorology and forecasting are also areas of constant interest to me. Yet time spent aloft is still the biggest thrill after all these years. The people you meet and become involved with are also a great reward and asset for participating in this sport.



jesse rafn


I have been involved in the ballooning community since 1992, when my dad took me to my first balloon rally. The passion for ballooning “took off” when I was able to get a balloon ride with a local Portland pilot at the age of 6. Ballooning has been a central factor in my life for as long as I can remember, and I knew that I needed to become a pilot as soon as I could. I received my private license in 2005 and followed it up with my commercial license in 2011. Ballooning has given me so many amazing opportunities, and it’s something I hope to be able to do for many years to come.


Robert raper

fallen angels

I received my commercial pilot certificate in 1996 and I fly an average of 6 events a year. I own and operate High Plains Drifter Hot Air Balloons , LLC based out of Miles City, Montana. I am a retired federal employee of 36 years.


chris sabia

wonder bread

I started my ballooning career by taking a ride. I have been ballooning for 30 years and I met my wife Amanda on a balloon ride. We travel the country together flying for a great company, Wonder Bread.



alan sanderson

high hopes

I got my start as crew for some coworkers in the 1980s. I earned my commercial pilot certificate in 1992 in the Morgan Hill and Gilroy area south of San Jose, California, and have flown over 880 hours in balloons. I have flown many events in the Western US, including Albany and Tigard, OR. I hold a FAA repairman certificate, and I own Lindan Hot Air Service Center in Albany, the only FAA hot air balloon repair station in Oregon. I have received factory maintenance training on most major balloon brands, and I can repair almost all brands, including some experimental balloons.



chris whitfield

heaven bound

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



bill woodhead

his sky

I have been a pilot of over 45 years in airplanes and balloons and I have amassed over 3600 hours as Pilot in Command. I have flown balloons in most of the states in USA as well as Canada, Israel, Kenya and New Zealand..


mark yonkers

tom cat

I have had an interest in aviation, since I was a child. I have always enjoyed gliders, kites, sailboats and blimps and airships. This led to my interest in ballooning. I saw my first balloon in Alaska in 1977 and started crewing. I eventually learned to fly and received my private pilot license in 1980. In 1983 I received my commercial license, and eventually, I spent 10 years flying corporate balloons around the USA. My favorite place to fly is Lake Tahoe, CA. I have ballooned in 43 states, including Alaska.