With only two club members flying the balloon Lesley was able to make a number of flights with her father. Her first flight was supposed to have been on tether, but the balloon flew across the field. Lesley remembers that experience as, “pretty amazing.” That beginning, 28 years ago, evolved into a life-long love of ballooning and a career.
In 1971 and 1972 Deke Sonnichsen (Balloonmeister October, 1992) and Dodds Meddock put on the Intercollegiate Hot Air Balloon Championships. The winner of both events was Lesley Pritchard. In the early days she was more interested in the pure enjoyment of flying.
It would not be until 1978 that she would try her hand at being a competitor in the U.S. National Championship. She also competed all three years (1979-81) in the Kool Pro Tour.
“I wish that I had participated earlier in the U.S. Nationals. In those early years I believe that I was as good as rest and could have won the championship.”
In 1971 Lesley went with her father to a balloon event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and met Tracy Barnes. Having only flown Ravens up to that point she was very impressed with the balloon system that Barnes was developing. For the next three years Lesley spent time in Statesville, North Carolina helping to work on the type certification for the Barnes Balloons.
This balloon experience aside, when Lesley finished college she became a teacher for Special Education students in a small town in northern Michigan.
In January of 1978 the lure of ballooning was too great. At mid-school year she quit her job and moved to Texas to become a full-time balloonist.
“I sat down with my parents and explained to them how I was going to support myself as a full-time balloonist. They were horrified.”
She chose Dallas having recently visited the area to participate in balloon events in San Antonio and Houston.
“Having lived in the north woods I was ready for a change. The climate in Dallas was a lot milder, the economy was booming, and it just looked like a place that needed a balloon business.”
For the next ten years Lesley operated Air Adventures Balloonport, a full-service balloon company offering, rides, instruction, balloon sales, repair station, cold air balloons, advertising, and balloon tether promotions. In 1988, soon after marrying her husband, Tom Davies (Balloonmeister May, 1993) she sold the business and moved to Vail, Colorado.
Balloon Life asked Lesley what she considered some of her memorable flights besides that first short flight 28 years ago.
“A balloon race from Chicago across Lake Michigan and everybody being caught up in a thunderstorm. Every one of the Kool Pro Tour flights, like flying up “The Strip” in Las Vegas. Each and every one of my gas balloon flight has been the ultimate flying experience.”
Lesley’s first gas balloon flight was with the late Nikki Caplan during the Heinsheimer Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race from Fountain Valley, California in 1981. Over the next seven years she participated in as many gas balloon events as possible.
After her marriage gas ballooning took a back seat for a few years. “Although Tom had first flown in a gas balloon in 1987 he didn’t have the passion for it like I did.”
Over the last few years Lesley has gotten back to gas ballooning and has made it a priority in her life. She has done well in competition including a 1,448.49 mile flight with co-pilot Carol Rymer Davis (Balloonmeister September, 1992) in 1995 and a third place finish with husband Tom in this year’s American Challenge gas race from Albuquerque.
“I really like the challenge of the Gordon Bennett style gas race where you put everything on the line to go the maximum distance in one flight.”
Asked if she has a goal to win the Gordon Bennett she replied, “Heavens, yes! That would be wonderful. I would be very, very excited to have an opportunity to represent the U.S. and give it a go.”
What does the future hold for Lesley and ballooning? “There is no question that I will always be flying as long as I am able. In all these years I have never been able to remove myself or get away from [ballooning]. I love balloons just as much as ever whether it is watching them or flying them. I was an artist before I was a balloonist and sometimes I pull back to that. But I always come back to ballooning.”
Art today still plays an important role in her life. In fact, when Balloon Life recently caught up with Lesley she had just finished hanging a show of her’s at the Vail, Colorado City Hall.