Balooning Business

Crawfords of La Grange
have built successful ballooning business

The couple attend several
area festivals for rides and races

By Helen E. McKinney,
Contributing Writer

(May, 2002) LA GRANGE, Ky. – For Stuart and Diane Crawford, the sky’s the limit. On a clear day, that is. The La Grange, Ky., residents own and operate Crawford Hot Air Balloons, which offers balloon flights seven days a week, year-round. Diane is the crew chief in charge of recovery. This year she achieved Level 4 Master Crew Chief, the highest designation from the Balloon Federation of America. They are often helped in the business by their teenage children, Aaron and Casey.

Stuart’s love for ballooning began as a hobby, he said. But as he became more involved with it, his passion turned into a business venture, beginning in 1986.
Crawford is a commercial pilot with more than 1,300 hours logged. He has flown small airplanes since 1977.
In addition to Crawford, the company employs three other balloon pilots – Michael Montgomery of Mt. Washington, Ky.; Rick Dillbeck of Evansville, Ind.; and Tom Steinbock of Crestwood, Ky.
Passengers can schedule rides in one of his six hot air balloons in selected areas of Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and southeast Illinois. The balloons carry two to six passengers each and a pilot.
Crawford said the average flight lasts one hour in his 65-foot-tall balloons. Passengers can gracefully glide over a family farm or any number of gently rolling scenic landscapes, as long as atmospheric conditions are favorable.
Most flights are the result of gifts given for special occasions, such as anniversaries, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. This present is a memorable gift the receiver won’t soon forget.
Crawford often participates in many civic events, such as the Balloon Glow and the Great Balloon Race, which are both part of the annual Kentucky Derby Festival and held at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. He has been in the Great Balloon Race for the last 15 years, and had five balloons in this year’s race, held April 27.
Crawford has added to his list this year the new Madison Ribberfest, scheduled for Aug. 16-17 in Madison, Ind. This festival was designed to celebrate the cities’ heritage in the pork industry and will feature BBQ cooking contests, blues music, Balloon Glow and two balloon hare and hound races.
Committee chairperson Jim Pruett of RE/MAX Group 1 in Madison is organizing the balloon races for Ribberfest. RE/MAX of Indiana is one of three main sponsors for the festival.
“We have worked with him in the past on races when we had balloons tethered at different events,” Pruett said of Crawford. “He offered a lot of input and was instrumental in working out details.”
Pruett said the Balloon Glow would be held at 8 p.m. on Aug. 16 at on the McCoy property on the Kentucky side of the river in Milton. This would give festival-goers in Madison the chance to relax on the Indiana riverbank and enjoy an unobstructed view of Crawford’s balloons.
A 6:30 a.m. and a 5:30 p.m. race are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 17. A total of $5,000 will be awarded to balloon race winners.
Crawford said balloons are “kind of like vehicles. The bigger they are, the fancier they can be.”
Crawford’s business features UltraMagic Hot Air Balloons, of which he sells new and used models. UltraMagic is based in Barcelona, Spain, and manufactures envelopes, baskets and burners for hot air balloons.
If a customer wishes to purchase a balloon from Crawford, he can choose from an UltraMagic stock design or order a balloon built to their specifications, regarding shapes, colors and designs.
Crawford and his wife, Diane, train most of their pilots. He holds annual training classes and provides a refresher class at Jefferson Community College’s southwest auditorium.
He said he likes to “recruit people for crew members who have the potential to become pilots. The crew is more than just a pilot.”
After taking their first flight, many people become interested in becoming hot air balloon pilots. Dr. Pat Stack of Madison said Crawford provided him with one-on-one training.
“My wife surprised me with a balloon ride for my 35th birthday.” After that, Stack was hooked on ballooning.
As you move with the air currents, Stack said there is “no real sense of movement. There is no wind in your face as you glide along. It’s very peaceful.”

• For information about Crawford Hot Air Balloons, call (502) 222-7600 or 1-800-242-2966.

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