A Ride With A 2-Time Hot Air Balloon Champion
by Jill Johnson
June 12, 2013 9:32 PM
Many of us fear simply riding in a hot air balloon, let alone trying to fly one, but there's one Leawood, Kansas man who does it for sport. And he done pretty well at it. In fact, he's a Two-Time World Hot Air Balloon Champion. That's why we think Pilot John Petrehn is 'Someone You Should Know'.
At age 14, many teenagers learn to drive, but not John Petrehn. He learned to fly.
Petrehn said, "When I turned 14, I became a student pilot, when I turned 16 back in the late 80's, I got my pilots license and then soon after that I became a commercial pilot and I've pretty much been flying full-time since."
Now 41-years-old, John travels the country doing what he loves. He's a goodwill ambassador for Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, the pilot of their hot air balloon.
Petrehn said, "My job is to put a smile on people's faces and I'm a lucky and blessed individual to be able to do that."
He may have landed a dream job, but before you can even take flight, there's a lot of work involved.
First a frame is attached to the basket. The burners are placed on top, then the gas is connected.
Testing out the burners Petrehn said, "Looks like they work!"
Then the heavy lifting. Two-hundred and fifty pounds of nylon is rolled out.
Petrehn said, "It's about 60 feet tall, 50 feet wide, there's 77, 000 cubic feet of air that we're going to heat up here in a minute."
With a fan, the balloon is filled with cold air. Once there's enough air in the balloon, the burners are turned on. It's that warm air that stands the balloon up. Now the fun part. In just a matter of seconds, we have lift off.
"There's a certain temperature where the balloon flies level so if I want to go up, I heat it above that temperature, the faster we go," Petrehn said.
John uses the burners to go up and down, and can maneuver the balloon through different altitudes in the wind. In fact, he's one of the best in the world at making it do whatever he wants. John won the title as World Hot Air Balloon Champion in 2006 in Japan and again in Hungary in 2010.
Petrehn said, "They give us four or five pre-determined points through the course of our flight and we take off and we fly close enough, we've got a little bean bag with our name on it and we throw it down at the target."
Whoever racks up the most points at the end of one week is the champion.
Petrehn said, "Some days it looks pretty easy and other days this can be just as frustrating as golf or any other sport."
A sport that has taken him all over the United States and to three or four different countries.
But even with 2,500 hours logged, he says there's nothing like flying over somewhere you've never been before.
Petrehn said, "I've never been to Sioux Falls, I didn't know what the Falls were and here we are in a balloon next to them, staring at waterfalls going through the river," said Petretn. "It's kind of just amazingly peaceful and it's something that fascinates everybody and bring out the kid in everybody."
A little piece of mind, knowing this guy can land on a dime.
No one has ever won the World Hot Air Balloon Championship three times and only a number of pilots have won twice. Petrehn is one of them. He hopes to bring home his 3rd title in Brazil in 2014.