On the morning of Feb. 27, for the first time in Canada, and possibly the world, three student pilots were able to simultaneously fly their first solo flight in High River, Alberta on their way to becoming the newest licensed hot air balloon pilots in Canada.
Never before have three balloon pilots ever passed this milestone at the same time in the same place.
And another first… two of the three were a father/son team.
After much anticipation, Saturday morning saw a dramatic change in weather conditions from recent weeks allowing for the flight to go ahead under a bright sunny sky with calm winds and mild temperatures – perfect conditions for solo flight.
37 years ago, High River resident, Cathy Dudgeon, began her ballooning adventure as a ground crew member for a balloon team in Edmonton. She abandoned hopes of getting her balloon license after just two training flights deciding that a teaching degree and a career was probably a more important goal at that point in her life. Saturday morning she officially finished that training in her balloon, “Maryanne’s Treat,” an inheritance purchase and a tribute to her late mother.
At the same time, father/son team, Brent and Scott Gordon (also from High River) completed their solo flights with Brent piloting their own balloon and Scott in a second balloon loaned to them by their instructor for the flight. Brent had been involved in ballooning for several years as volunteer ground crew for the annual Heritage Inn Balloon Festival in High River. Scott, was hooked on the sport after joining him as ground crew just last fall. They decided back in September to purchase their own balloon and train together for their balloon licenses.
Along with four more student pilots in Alberta currently in the process of training for their licenses, this represents major growth for the sport which has not seen significant new interest and involvement since the balloon festival held in conjunction with the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988.
The recent growth in interest in the sport is due, in large part, to the success of the Heritage Inn Balloon Festival held annually in September in High River, AB. Since its inception in 2013, the festival has become a favourite stop for balloon pilots from Canada, the United States and a number of countries from all over the world and continues to grow in attendance year after year. Dates for this year’s festival are September 22-26.