January 7, 1974 was a Saturday morning. An ordinary Saturday perhaps for millions of people, but a remarkable for one Maureen Mullen (now Lynch). For it was on that Saturday morning in New Jersey that she saw her first balloon.
"We just saw these three balloons flying by about a mile away and they looked like three giant Christmas ornaments, they were absolutely amazing," Lynch recalled recently when interview by Balloon Life. As a young teenager (political correctness did not stop our asking her age but it does prevent us from revealing it!) she was able to talk her father into driving her and several friends to the balloons landing site and the spark of a lifelong love affair was ignited.
Six months later she would meet Bob Sparks while he was piloting the Lark balloon on tour. A few minutes of tethered burner time and Lynch’s spark was now a five alarm fire. Like all teenage love affairs, this one presented it’s own special problem for the teen’s parents.
"To my parents tremendous credit they’ve always supported all seven of us kids in whatever we did and this meant getting up at five in the morning to drive their kid out to where ever the balloons were launching from so that I could go out and crew and get experience and they did this time and again."
Lynch would go on to trade crewing for pilot training. She joined the Tewksbury Balloon Club of Fairmount, NJ in 1977 and received most of her pilot instruction from Harris Smith a former Navy blimp pilot. Lynch bought her first balloon in 1980 while working for Terry Wright’s repair station. "I bought a balloon before I bought my first car," she explains, "a decision that I don’t think went over too well with my parents."
Mike Fairbanks would introduce Lynch to the world of gas ballooning when he brought a gas balloon to the Adirondack festival in 1983. (It was also at the Adirondack that Mullen would meet her husband, Chris Lynch.) Lynch would eventually approach Ben Abruzzo about instructing her in gas flight but those discussions were cut short when Abruzzo was killed in the tragic crash of his light plane in Albuquerque.
Undaunted, Lynch purchased a Raven Orbiter, one of three ultralight gas balloons built by Raven. A few years later, in 1987 Lynch would capture a US National record for AA2 duration with a flight of nine hours and seven minutes but because of some controversy over the envelope’s lifting capacity, the FAI failed to approve her claim to a world record. Strangely enough, her national record flight still out distances the current world record.
Lynch’s love of ballooning soon spilled over into another love; books. Though for security reasons she declined to discuss the size and value of their collection, Lynch and husband Chris have one of the largest privately held collections of ballooning ephemera. Among her personal favorites in the collection, a series of manuscript letters written by aeronaut John Wise, and an original charcoal, pencil and wash by Albert Toussandier depicting the balloon Jean Bart (which Toussandier flew out of the city of Paris during the siege) crossing the Seine river for the third time trying to fly back into the city.
As is often the case with individuals who become deeply immersed in a prime field of interest, their many other interest become intertwined. So it is with Lynch, whose love of balloons spills over into her appreciation for books, which spawned an interest in research which in turn led to an interest and practice in journalism, which expanded her need for research which enhances the collection, and so on.
Indeed the expertise to research, locate and value individual pieces of ballooning history led to the Lynch’s part-time business, Valhalla Aerostation. The unique company specializes in the buying and selling of books, prints, collectibles, memorabilia and anything that people collect dealing with lighter-than-air flight. Proceeds from the business fund purchases for the private collection.
Many in the sport who may never have met Lynch still feel an uncommon familiarity with her by virtue of the many articles she has authored, first as a freelancer in Ballooning Journal and later as the East Coast Editor for Balloon Life. "I studied journalism in high school and was eyeing the field as a major for college when Bud Langford encouraged me to write an article for Ballooning and apparently talked then editor Dick Brown into giving my work a chance.
"Later in the early 80’s, I met Tom Hamilton at one of the safety seminars he organized in the southeast. At the time he was editor of the BFA’s Pilot News (now Skylines ) but he had expressed his idea to launch a commercial ballooning publication." By early 1986 when Balloon Life debuted, Lynch was generating about as much copy on ballooning as anyone else in the country. Hamilton went to her with a simple question, ‘Would Lynch like to get paid for her writing?’ (As a writer myself, perhaps only I can appreciate the true naiveté of such a question.) Lynch would serve as the East Coast Editor of Balloon Life from 1986 until my own appointment as Editor of the magazine in 1989.
Though both she and husband Chris are accomplished balloonists, aerostation has taken something of a back seat in their lives recently. Lynch has returned to school in pursuit of a Doctorate in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. On October 13, 1995 the newest Lynch joined the world, little Dorothy Gertrude Lynch was born. Already her favorite toy is a mylar helium balloon. Like mother like daughter??
Still, Lynch says the family wants to return to a more active role in ballooning with hopes of purchasing a new hot air balloon in a few months. But the long term goal is a return to gas ballooning where Chris and Maureen hope to qualify as a husband and wife team for the next Gordon Bennett race. And if the rest of us are lucky enough, maybe she’ll take the time out to write about the experience afterwards.