Up, Up And Away

After officially opening less than one month ago, the Lucile M. Wright Air Museum has yet another piece of aviation history to display – a hot air balloon.

Donated by John Owens, commercial pilot and owner of Balloons Over Chautauqua, the 1993 Aerostar balloon, basket and burners now rest in front of one of the large windows facing Third Street.

“We just got it inside on Saturday, but it’s here for people to come and see now,” said Ed Martiney, manager of the Lucile M. Wright Air Museum.

According to Martiney, the basket actually had to be disassembled in order to fit it through the door of the museum. The floor of the basket was removed so that it could be squeezed through the entrance, and it was reattached once inside. Due to the amount of space that is available inside the museum, the balloon, or “envelope” is not inflated. Instead, it rests in its transport bag near the basket.

“A balloon like this is something that a lot of people don’t get the chance to see up close,” said Martiney. “Unless you have the money to pay for a ride at the shows, most people don’t ever see the inside of a hot air balloon basket, and it’s a lot more complicated than some people might think.”

The basket houses two high-powered burners that provide lift for the balloon, as well as an instrument panel that provides that pilot with readings regarding altitude and barometric pressure.

“I flew for 22 years for Balloons Over Chautauqua,” said Owens. “I’d had that balloon since 1993 and I’ve used it for everything from hot air balloon rides and school programs to tethered rides and balloon rallies like the Chautauqua Sky Jam.”

During the 20 years that Owens had the balloon in service, he was the pilot for nearly 1,000 flights. With each flight holding up to three people, he believes that he’s brought roughly 2,500 people into the air with him in that particular balloon. Prior to piloting this balloon, Owens was the pilot of the Remax balloon that many area residents may recognize.

“I decided to retire from flying and I thought that the air museum would be a fitting place for it,” said Owens. “It’s pretty neat what they have there. There’s been a lot of interest in the area for balloons over the years, so I approached Ed (Martiney) to see about donating it to the museum.”

“I wanted to be able to give more people a taste for what balloons look like,” said Owens. “There were a lot of people that went up in that balloon and a lot of memories were made with it. Even though I’m retiring, there are still other pilots in the area, so people can still cross something like that off of their bucket list.”

The Lucile M. Wright Air Museum is located at 300 N. Main St. For more information about the museum, call 664-9500 or visit them at www.lucilemwrightairmuseum.org.