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2005 Madison Ribberfest Balloon Races

Indianapolis helicopter pilot
adds ballooning

Solenberg will join others in balloon races, glow

By Levi King
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (Aug. 12, 2005) –  Indianapolis WISH TV pilot John Solenberg will relinquish his news helicopter this weekend to participate in the Madison Ribberfest balloon races, sponsored by RE/MAX.
Solenberg has been flying since the 1970s, when he learned to pilot seaplanes, helicopters and aerobatic planes. Ballooning is Solenberg’s latest airborne adventure. He started five years ago through a friend.
The transition from airplanes and helicopters to balloons was easy for the veteran airman.

John & Brenda Solenberg

Photo provided

Brenda and John Solenberg prepare
to lift off at a recent hot
air ballooning festival.

"The sensation of flight is similar to flying a helicopter, only much, much slower,” he said. “Balloon pilots take the same written and oral tests as private pilots for an airplane.”
Solenberg passed the tests, including an hour-long flight with a Federal Aviation Administration official, bought a balloon and now takes part in six competitions each year. This year will be Solenberg’s third appearance at the Madison Ribberfest race. Last year, Solenberg placed second.
Morning and afternoon Hare and Hound races are planned for Saturday, Aug. 20. A balloon glow is planned for 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River but visible from the festival area in downtown Madison. More than two dozen balloonists from Indiana and surrounding states will join Solenberg to compete for a total purse of $5,000.
The first race will begin at 6:30 a.m. The second race will begin at 6 p.m., with the points combined to decide an overall winner.
In a Hare and Hound race, the hare balloon departs five to 10 minutes before the hound balloons. The hare scouts out a suitable location and drops a 20-foot target on the ground. Each hound balloon must navigate toward the target and toss a marker as close to the “X” as possible.

Solenberg balloon

Photo provided

The Solenbergs
lift off.

The two heats will each pay $400 for first, $175 for second, $75 for third, $50 for second and $25 for fifth place. The overall competition will award $1,200 to first, $550 to second, $275 to third, $175 to fourth, and $50 to fifth. Winning balloons that took part in the balloon glow will receive an additional bonus.
Solenberg said he enjoys the camaraderie among area balloonists. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people. You see the same balloons and the same pilots at the contests.”
Once in the air, however, all bets are off. “It can get pretty competitive,” Solenberg noted.
Jeff Menchhofer will serve as the Balloon Meister and will pilot the RE/MAX hare balloon. Menchhofer’s McCordsville, Ind., company, Balloon Port, orchestrates events for RE/MAX offices around the state. As a teenager, Menchhofer and his father built their own balloon from scratch after hours at their industrial sewing company. FAA regulations on homemade balloons restricted their flights, so he soon purchased a balloon.
Menchhofer trained with a balloon pilot and passed the FAA tests to obtain his license in 1978. He’s been flying ever since and now makes about 100 flights each year, including charity events, races and passenger rides.
Solenberg advises anyone interested in ballooning to take a ride or find an instructor to learn more.

For more information or to order tickets, call the Madison Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-559-2956 or visit: www.madisonribberfest.com.

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