This is a very sad blog.
As many of you know I suffered a massive stroke at the end of February 2020. I spend most of march in the hospital starting off with 6 days in a coma. I have now come out of the hospital Weak, Dizzy, Light Headed and unable to fly. I am now on medication for high blood sugar. (Diabetes). I am on Medication for nerve pain, I am on medication for High Blood pressure and a few others that I am unaware what they do but my wife puts them in my pill box and I take them. I am on the phone (Virtual visit) with my doctor about every other week. Only 1 in 4 survive the stroke I had and about 60% of those who do survive have permanent disabilities. I do realize how incredibly fortunate I am just to be here. My family (including the balloon world) has been an inspiration to me and kept my drive to continue alive. In reality, I have managed to come thru reasonably unscathed. I still have (after being home two months) issues with my strength and equilibrium. I get very dizzy or lightheaded (I feel like I am on a boat in the ocean) but my mental acuities and physical aptitude are unencumbered. I have managed to loose enough weight that my medication for High Blood pressure has been reduced once already. I continue to work each day on the internet, projects in the shop and other house hold chores to keep me busy and build my strength.
I am slowly coming to grip with the realization that I will never fly commercially again. After nearly 7,000 flights and who knows how many tens of thousands of passengers I will never again be able to share my joy with those who have never experienced the amazing bliss of a Hot Air Balloon flight.
I started my balloon adventure at the age of 13 when my parents took me to see the National Balloon Championships in Indianola Iowa. I went home and began to build model hot air balloons out of tissue paper and cellophane tape. At first they were very crude and I burned up a few before I perfected my aircraft. Eventually I created a tissue paper balloon with its own burner fed by 50 feet of plastic hose. The burner was made out of a syringe from a hospital and tin foil. My "Burner" was clipped in the mouth of the balloon where I would turn the fire, up and down, from the ground with a propane regulator stolen from my fathers Coleman camp stove. One of my favorite tissue paper balloons was the balloon (on the right) I built for my high school. It was Blue and White (School colors) and about 9 feet tall. In the photo I am demonstrating it for my old Jr. High school in the Gym. Try doing that now a days. I would fly that balloon in the end zone at school football games. I would continue to fly that balloon even after I had my pilots certificate and my own real hot air balloon.
I started my training to become a Hot Air Balloon Pilot in the fall of 1975. At that time I was 15 years old. I completed my training and solo flew a balloon while I was 16 years old. At 17 years old ( With my parents help) I was able to purchase the balloon I had trained in and began my ballooning adventures. I finished in the top 10 in the Iowa State Championships in 1977. That same year I flew as a non-comp pilot in the National Balloon Championships in Indianola Iowa. The same place, where just a few short years before I was a wide eyed 13 year old watching over a snow fence at balloons launching and floating directly over my head from the Simpson Collage campus. Over the years I have had the privilege to meet and fly with many of the balloon world's "Hall of Famers". I was able to fly with, (what today are considered) the legends of the sport. As Capt Phogg would say, "I learned to fly balloons back in the day's when ballooning was dangerous and sex was safe" (1)
I am sadly coming to the horrible realization that my commercial flying days are over. Even now as I recover I am starting to realize that in my condition just flying a balloon could be dangerous for me even if I were alone. If you are reading this and have been one of my past passengers you will undoubtedly realize the passion I had for balloon flying and the love I had for the intricacy of flight and how to "ride the wind". There is simply nothing in life I loved better than the artistry of flying a balloon. It did not matter to me if I were flying passengers or training students or even flying competition I loved to fly. I also loved passing along the knowledge of the art form. I have an old testimonial page from our original website years ago that has HUNDREDS of guest book entries. If you read them you will notice that most of them talk about my passion for flying. As one of my passengers said, "Your passion is hard to hide and very infectious". Even my own father would comment on how I would amaze him with my desire to fly, even after all of these years. So the idea that I can no longer fly is more than heartbreaking. At this time there are things I still want to do in Ballooning. I want to win the National Classic! I want to take my son for his first flight! I want to finish training my last two students! I want to fly more passengers and share the AWE, that is balloon flight! There is so much more I want to do but I simply can not. There is too much risk for me and for anyone I take along.
Never told anyone this before. I was at the National Balloon Championships in Battle Creek Michigan with my father. We were on the last day of competition and the flight weather was marginal at best. I had borrowed a balloon from Dave Sullivan (2). It was a 90K balloon and we were sent out on a GO for flight. My father made the decision that he would not fly because of the wind. The conditions were well beyond what we would take passengers flying in, but, this is the National Championships and we are flying with the best of the best. I was in go mode until my father came up to me and said " I am not going to fly but I will ride with you if you want. In these conditions you will need the weight". The balloon, I had borrowed was large enough to carry a pilot and three adults. In windy conditions and without the proper weight load you are more or less flying a garbage bag in a hurricane. The winds will toss you around like a rag doll since you do not have the proper load onboard. So technically my father was correct. I would need the extra weight on board to help with the performance of the balloon. BUT.... Father was well into his 70's at this point. There was a good chance that we would be beaten up good on landing, even a good landing at those speeds. When you land a balloon, you land at what ever the speed of the wind is. In a balloon that is under loaded you will never get the balloon stopped. You simply do not have the weight to stop the balloon as the fabric catches the wind and acts like a sail. I told my father "I am going to stay on the ground too". I simply could not take the chance of hurting my father at that age. A broken bone in your seventies may not heal for years. I wanted to fly in the competition but did not want to do it at the risk of my fathers health. I shed several tears on the way back. I hope some day to become half the man my father is.
I am now going thru decades of balloon equipment trying to evaluate what is trash and what could be worth something to someone. I have so much stuff. Radios, Tanks, GPS, Go-Pro cameras, compass's, Baskets, Fans, Vans, Trailers and more. Trying to sort thru all the stuff is a daunting task. Slowly we are listing the items here on this site. Hopefully the items will find a new loving home and continue the task of creating amazing memories for those who fly.
At this point all I can do is reminisce about the past 45+ years and the wonderful people I have met and the amazing things I have been able to do while involved in ballooning. I may need to sit down and tell a few stories over the next few years. Many fun stories and some scary ones as well. Most of all I need YOU! I need you to continue to use the HotAirBalloonist.com site. Become a member and help me spread the wisdom, knowledge, advice and more to the next generation of balloonists. I no longer have the ability to earn my living from balloon flying. It is my hope that I can earn a living with my abilities on the web and mostly this site. Please tell your friends about this site. Go get a membership right now and start a club. Ask me if you need something built. What features do you want to see on the site? I have been involved in every aspect of the balloon world. From repairs to competition and Cold Air balloons to entire envelope rebuilds. I have flown in many locations and built 100's of inflatables. I have built custom inflatables, from standard style inflatables to Lemon aid cups to propane tanks to Tony the Tiger head to an airbag on a billboard and even a 68ft tall Christmas tree. I have a ton of knowledge and experience and I feel a strong desire to pass this along to as many as care to listen. This website is my vehicle and you are the driver. Without paid members I can not continue to support this site.
Thank you to everyone whom have touched me and my family. The balloon world is such a fascinating and fantastic place to be a part of.
Jeff A Thompson
(1) Thank you Capt. Phogg for your quip's that I still use. AKA Dennis PHloden He will understand.
(2) Dave Sullivan is a dear friend and mentor. I was privileged to fly with him in the Harley Davidson Balloon at the National Balloon Classic in the Key Grab event. Dave actually got the ring off the top of the pole in front of more than 10,000 screaming fans!