What about me?
Wandering balloon pilot and photographer
Hello, I'm Jenny
A long time ago…. I was returning to Los Angeles after spending the day in San Diego looking for an apartment before starting work on a master’s degree in marine biology at San Diego State University. Driving north on the 5 freeway (I’m a Californian, we put “the” before the freeway number) there were balloons inflating for sunset flights over Del Mar. As I drove by I thought to myself that I would do that someday. I don’t know why I had that certainty, my only other exposure to balloons was through photographs in photography magazines.
The next step closer
During grad-school I met, started dating and ended up marrying the now infamous Ernie Hartt, hopper pilot. Little did I know when I met him that he already knew he would someday own and fly a balloon. Well it didn’t take long to figure this out since our 3rd date was to a balloon rally. If I didn’t like ballooning there was no point in his mind to pursue a relationship. Obviously I did and here we are.
As poor grad-students getting a balloon was a challenge. We crewed for the local balloon ride businesses, the ones I saw launching years before, and I had a TA-ship at the university. But this is San Diego where 50% or more of your income goes to housing. When the company we worked for was selling one of there smaller balloons we went to the local bank to get a balloon loan. We needed $4000 for the balloon and a little more to add a hitch to my Montero and a trailer to put it all in. The bank didn’t quite kick us out but close. We had to re-finance Ernie’s Ford Escort which was just barely new enough to use as collateral. We now had a Balloon Work’s AX8B we named Spinner, after a species of dolphin because the balloon had dolphins on it, and student licenses.
We spent the next year alternating getting lessons on weekends and occasionally in the big commercial balloons when they had space.
We took our private check rides in El Paso, TX the day after Balloon Fiesta. I got mine a half hour before Ernie who made the local morning news since there wasn’t much else going on.
After 9 years, Spinner was good for 40 minute flights but not much longer, in other words it was a screen door. Doing 40 minute flights in Del Mar is not always a good idea, you really need a hour to get to good landing areas and of course flying till empty is not smart or legal. We needed a new balloon but our finances were only marginally better, we were both working in science after all and it is a field you go into for the love of it, never the money. The solution was to get married, people give you money when you get married even if you have lived together for 9 years. We had 19 balloons fly all our family and guests and catered a breakfast at a local winery, We got half way to a used balloon and borrowed the rest from our fairy godparents; everyone should have fairy godparents. We now had the balloon we always wanted, a slightly used Cameron Viva-90. And that is the basket balloon you will see us in today, with a new top half on the balloon at this point.
This is ernie
I mentioned Ernie is the infamous hopper pilot. His first solo was in a hopper and it is his preferred method of flying.
He scoured the used hopper pages till he found one in England that previously had the IBM logo on it. It became the B1 Bomber with a borrowed bottom end till he saved enough to get a new bottom end. When the Bomber wore out we purchased our first ever new balloon, Twist and Shout. Ernie finally had the design he created when he first started crewing 22 years before.
If there is anything you want to know about hoppers, ask Ernie. If you want to try out a hopper, ask Ernie.
Where are they now?
You might ask where do old balloons go? Spinner did one last inflation next to Sex Toy and then we had a party where everyone could take a pair of scissors and cut a piece out, we kept the artwork with the dolphins. If you wash the coating off the stink goes too and we were told they make nice pillows. It was suggested we sell it but we didn’t feel safe flying it, we weren’t going to let anyone else fly it. We sold the basket for close to what we bought the system for so it all ended well.
The Bomber was donated as a walk-in balloon to the Teton Valley Balloon Rally.