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September 2022


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Dear Fellow Balloonist 

Please forgive me but this newsletter is going to be a tribute to the people of Iowa and the town of Indianola.  I drove from Florida to Indianola Iowa with my parents to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for my father Jim Thompson.  First let me say that spending two days driving with my parents was a pure joy.  Time I will forever treasure.  When we arrived in Indianola we were greeted by so many smiling faces and old friends, it was simply overwhelming.  I cannot describe how amazing Balloon People are!  YOU Reading this right now are a treasure, you are one of Ballooning’s best assets.  Balloonists are a special group of people and because of YOU ballooning is an amazing FAMILY activity!

Over the weekend dozens of Thompson’s descended on the little town of Indianola to be witness to the IMG_6305TN.jpginduction of one of their own.  I even had old high school wrestling buddie (Tom Schulz) show up for the event!  Walking around inside the National Balloon Museum was a real treat for us all.  Many of our family members had never been there and were in awe of the displays.  I told Tom it was like someone came to a balloon event that we were attending 45 years ago and scooped up all the equipment and transported it here for this day.  If you have never been to the National Balloon Museum you need to put it on your list.  Becky Wigeland (The Museum Curator) has done a magnificent job of creating a fabulous showcase of balloon memorabilia and a wealth of historical information.

John Davis

Thank you so very much goes out to John Davis for his fabulous introduction for my father’s induction.  He had me in tears when he mentioned my son Noah.  Unfortunately my wife daughter and son Noah stayed at home to continue Noah’s Leukemia Treatments and to keep him safe and John was extremely thoughtful to mention Noah at the beginning of his introduction. If you are interested in watching the video of John you can click on this link INDUCTION VIDEO  If you wish to see my father’s BIO just click here.

That was just the beginning. 

As the week went on I kept busy meeting and talking with old friends and keeping the map files updated for those who were using the hot air app. As I sat working on the maps one day an old friend Bill Griffin sat down across the table with a couple of other pilots and said “Do you guys know who that is?”  “That’s Jeff Thompson, He’s a legend!”  Terrified of what he might say next I said “WAIT, Whatever he is going to say next is purely hearsay and rumors.” To which he replied “*#@% that!  I was there and saw some of the stuff you did”  So yes there were some embarrassing moments for me but most of all I was witness to some incredible skillful ballooning including a clip I posted on Facebook of 8 balloons all jockeying their way into the main target while rubbing nylon the whole way.  I have said it before and will again.  The skill level of the pilots at the National Balloon Classic is the best in the world.  If you can hang with these pilots you can do well anywhereRubbing Nylon 

Facebook LIVE7marker.jpg

On Thursday August 4th my father and I went out on the main field just a few feet away from target and did a live broadcast for over an hour on Facebook while over 100 balloons flew in and peppered the target with markers.  The flight was a 7 marker drop day.  First target that morning was a single marker drop.   That first marker was a gravity drop.  Second target was a two marker target (one marker in a triangle nearest to the X and as second marker on the X)  The Third target was a two marker drop with one marker on the X, and a second marker dropped as far away from the X as you could while staying inside a scoring area marked on the main field.  The last target that day was also a two marker drop target with one marker on an X and a second marker inside a triangle as close to the X as you could.  OVER  100 Balloons flew this 7 marker course and what a thrill to be able to watch and broadcast it live!  Here is the link where you can watch that video.

Then to top it all off!

I got to FLY!  I had several pilots who offered to take me up during my visit to Balloon Heaven (Indianola)  On the last morning Mr. AL Appenzeller said, come show me how to get to the targets!  Show me how you would do it..  I BlindTarget.jpgagreed and jumped in with his crew.  First I must say that they made me feel comfortable and very much part of the team.  They were all eager to go and excited for the mornings adventure.  We had three targets to hit and this would be the last three targets for the event.  AL flies a Racer envelope for the morning competitions and when I got on board I fired up my HotAir.app on my phone.  I noticed very quickly that our rate of climb was 785 fpm.  After the lump in my throat cleared I pointed out the line I thought we should take to the first target and we settled into a nice layer heading just to the right of the target.  The target was on a small residential road between two bodies of water.  Anything not on the road did not count.  The target was down in a valley and hidden by tall trees till you were just about directly on top of it so navigation was done mostly via electronics.  We had many balloons off to our right side but I told Al we will spend way too much time working our way back left if we go too far right, and that lower left in this valley will be unpredictable.  So we stayed on our line at the target.  Later I counted the balloons there were in the before and after photos taken on that first target and realized that we passed 17 balloons just on that first target with our “Straight IN” approach.  As we cleared the trees and started to descend to the target we were directly online to pass right over the target.  Al gave me the marker and said “Here you make the toss” BlindTarget2.jpgSo I made the best shot I could and it landed just about two feet past the end of one of the legs of the X. Normally I would have been thrilled with that drop but it was about 6 inches off the road and did not count.  I was shattered and apologized whole heartedly to Al.  I screwed up a great run on the first target.  Somehow Al was thrilled.  He said he was so very excited to actually fly directly over a target like that and he did not care that the marker did not count.  He said, “You have done exactly what I asked you to, you showed me how to fly to the target”!  So on we went to the main field for our second target.  On the second target, we pretty much did the same sort of approach and managed again to drop our marker just at the end of one of the legs of the X.  A very respectable score and now it was time to focus on the last target for the morning and of the event. 

This is where things took a twist that I did not see coming.  Al looked at me and said, “Why don’t you fly us to the last target”.

Have you seen the movie Top Gun, MAVERICK?  Remember the scene where Maverick decides to fly the course himself to show the other pilots it can be done.  That is what this felt like for me.  I had only flown a balloon once in the last 30 months but flying competition is my favorite type of flying.  So hang on,,,,,, here we go!!!

So I jumped in as PIC.  A quick review of the systems of his balloon, instruments fuel qty, vents ect…  I flew into my sweet spot for the approach to the last target.  After about 10 minutes Al asked, "Have you ever flown a Racer before?"  I said, “Al I have never been this close to one and you should have asked me that 10 minutes ago before you let me take over flying your balloon”!  We both had a good chuckle.  I lined up on the target and flew directly over a couple of other balloons trying to make a lower approach and dropped down to about 20 feet off the ground and nearly center over the target.  Al was able to toss his marker on the X like throwing your dirty socks in the bedroom cloths hamper.  Here is a link to a very short video showing that drop.  Nailed IT  After we dropped on that target I gave the controls back to Al and just sat back and enjoyed the views of 100 balloons in the morning sky dancing on the winds.  What a fantastic way to finish my week at the National Balloon Classic.  I cannot thank Al Appenzeller and his amazing team enough!  Their teamwork, enthusiasm and efforts were fun to be a part of and a thrill to watch!

I was taken to the airport by my parents for my direct flight home and the whirlwind trip was over.  I quarantined at my parents’ house for the next 4 days just to be safe and make sure that I did not bring something home from the trip or the plane ride home.  The last thing we wanted to do was for me to come home and infect Noah during his cancer treatments.  As it turned out I was fine and able to come home from my parents’ house to a loving and dearly missed wife and kiddos. 

To my ballooning friends thank you for putting up with my hijacking of this newsletter to tell you about my trip.  I promise we will get back to more ballooning related information next newsletter.  I just received a new book from Kevin Cloney called “It’s More Than HOT AIR” and I will talk more about it in the next newsletter but I will say that I did not put it down.  I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.  Here is a link to the Kindle version on Amazon.  Get it.

Overall I wish to say thank you to everyone who is a part of the National Balloon Classic.  From the Executive Director to the Balloon Meister to the Weather people, Scoring teams, Rural Relations Landowners and the 100’s of volunteers and pilots and crews that make this event so special every year.  Just WOW and…

Thank you for all you do for the Balloon World.

Jeff A Thompson

To all my friends who took the time to stop and say hi.  You have no idea, after my stroke, how much that simple act has touched my heart.  There was a long period where I thought I may never get to see you all again.  To my wife who held down the Thompson Compound while I was away.  Thank you dear, you are amazing and we will all return here next year so Noah can fly with these amazing people we call our balloon family.  We love you all!  Jeff  


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Jeff A Thompson.  Admin@HotAirBalloonist.com 407-421-9322

44 year LTA pilot, BFA member since 1977, BFA Level DA-8, Ed Yost Master Pilot. 6500 flights, 5650 Flight Hours

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