Balloon Fiesta pilot John Petrehn has a long history with hot air ballooning. In this month's Inside the Basket, learn about his role as the pilot of the Canon balloon at Balloon Fiesta and how he gets to live out his love of the sport all year long.
1. Give a brief overview of your ballooning background.
Ballooning was a family sport growing up in my house. I went for my first flight in 1974 when I wasn’t even tall enough to see over the side of the basket. I spent my summers on the ground crewing for my father until I was old enough to start my pilot training with my sister Becky in the mid-80s. Ballooning started out as something I did for fun but it quickly took over all aspects of my life. It soon became my full-time job, traveling the country flying corporate balloons. When not flying balloons for hire, I spent my free time flying in balloon competitions all around the world. That pretty much still describes my life today.
2. What inspired you to become a pilot?
Because ballooning was always part of my life, becoming a pilot was just something I was always going to do. I counted the days until I was legally old enough to begin my training and become a private and a commercial balloon pilot. Today I own and operate a company called Magniflight LLC, specializing in corporate hot air balloon marketing and advertising. It truly is a blessing to be able to do what I love and love what I do.
3. How many years have you flown in Balloon Fiesta, what's your favorite part about the event?
My first Balloon Fiesta was in 1991 as a spectator and helping on the ground crew. The very next year I was signed up as I pilot. I have flown my own personal balloons, as well as many different corporate balloons and special shapes, such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Bayer, Ben & Jerry’s, Touchstone Electric Cooperatives. Currently, I am honored to fly the “Canon – See Impossible” balloon for the presenting sponsor of Balloon Fiesta. The best part of Balloon Fiesta for me is launching the Canon balloon on the first Saturday morning, flying our Nation’s flag during the National Anthem opening ceremonies. I get goose bumps just thinking about it!
4. What is your favorite ballooning memory?
My favorite ballooning memory…so many to choose from as ballooning has taken me so many places around the world and introduced me to so many incredible people along the way. I guess my most favorite memory was during a long gas balloon flight, getting to spend two nights sitting in an open wicker basket, watching the northern lights dance through the sky. It was a life-changing experience!
5. What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a pilot?
My advice for someone thinking of becoming a pilot…go for it. Find an instructor and start your lessons as soon as you can. Don’t wait another day. Ballooning offers something for everyone. The people you meet and the places it can take you are limitless. It all starts with that first flight.