trickyinthe land of Mickey. Balloonists
but they’d betterbe prepared to REALLY
fly over it. Balloons need to fly 1,000 feet
theiranimal kingdom.Of more than 30,000
acres Disney owns, less than a quarter has
been developed with another quarter des-
prepared for about a four-to six-hour lay-
over,” said Bill Whidden, who flies in the
Orlandoarea. “Theywillcome outwith
their little securitytrucksandaskyouto
pack up and you’ll have a lot ofexplaining
The FAAhas been known to write up
said. Ofcourse, thepilotsof the Disney
balloons—Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck
and Cinderella’s Castle—all now retired,
had permission to operate at the park, but
more oftenflew out of state.
son, Whidden said. Afternoon flights are
rare exceptin the winter due to frequent
heatingduring the day.
because oftheproximityof the Atlantic
“we do early up and early down almost all
the time. We fly about an hour and we’re
Anyone planningto bring aballoon
along on their Florida vacation is urged to
contact a local pilot first. “When you get
whereyou are going,” Whidden said.“We
alwaysrecommend to anybody toplease
call one of the local guys before they even
attempt tofly here. There’stons of land,
Disney, or isa water retentionarea.”
$30,000 damage, Whidden said. The area
cause numerous sports celebrities and rock
stars live inthe region. Some have com-
plainedtothe FAA about early-morning
competing ride operators.
“There were so many guys in the ride
business downthere and they allwanted
tofly over the theme parks and flylow,”
brought it onthemselves.”
Orlando-area pilots dohave permis-
area, or in former orange groves that have
flight. Whidden figures he came a bit too
close to an alligator nest once while doing
a splashanddashina pond.
“The mother gators are very protec-
tive and allof a suddena big set of jaws
came outof the water and pulleda huge
chunk out of the leather of the basket and
boy I got outof there,” he said.
On the Gulf Coast, ballooning is vir-
tually outlawed in SarasotaCounty after a
town official said his cattle were spooked
“It was in aheavily built-up area. The
rancherwasinthe goodol’ boynetwork
you can fly out ofcounty dumps or schools
but youhavetoget permissionfrom the
ahead of time.”
active balloonistsinsouthwest Florida.
“Sarasota isn’t a goodarea to flyin
anyway,” he said.
He avoids the Sarasota ordinance by
flying in North Port, a community with its
own zoning, but hardlyanyresidents.
said. “Theysoldlotstopeople upnorth
have zero landowner problems. You take
off and land on the roads. But the limiting
factor is the wind speed. If the winds are
over six [knots], then we scrub. You come
over the trees, venthardand make a nice
standup landing onthe road.There’sal-
timesa year, almost always in the morn-
“We specialize in seniors. That’s an-
other reasonwe limitit tosixknots,” he
glades National Park, more than 1.5 mil-
tropical wilderness in the continental U.S.
Kingswood Sprott, who was Florida’s
firstmodern-d ayballo onistwhenhe
know anyonewho has crossed thefull
length of the Everglades in a balloon.
“Itwouldn’tbe muchof a feattodo it,
but it would be boring,” he said. Chuck
Rohr, of Ft. Lauderdale, who also began
ballooning in 1970, has flown 20 miles
acrossa narrowswatchof the swampland,
from Boca Raton to sugar cane fields in
Delle Glade, near Lake Okeechobee.
And Rohr has also flown the seven-
mile trip over salt water from Key Largo
to the mainland, near Homestead.
Homestead is about the only decent
place tofly balloonsin southeastFlorida,
“That’sthe onlyfarm countryaround
here,” said Don Caplan,a veteran bal-
Miami in 1990. “And we only schedule
morning flights. Evening flights areso
rare, we don’t schedule them.”
but doesn’t prefer the flying area. “Basi-
cally it stinks,” he said.
three active balloonists living in the Mi-
ami area. Rohr said Hurricane Andrew,
which slammed into Homestead in 1992,
“cleaned it up pretty good,” but there are
“A typical flight fromHomestead,
you look to the right and see the ocean,
you look to the left andit’s the Ever-
glades,”Caplan said. “It’s difficult toget
anhour inif yougetaneastor west wind.”
And he summed up the balloon ride
business in Miami in two words: “Abso-
lutely crappy.We’renot spotted atall
from where we fly.”
north of Miami, is a better place to fly.
undergroundpowerlines, althougha great
deal of once-vacant land is being devel-
Sunshine State Balloon Association, meets thethird Tuesday
includes bimonthly newsletter, Launch Site. Subscription only
is $15. Contact: 563 Sixth Ave. SE, Largo, FL33771. 727-586-
Hot Air Balloons In Tallahassee, informal club of about10
Martindale,828AbbiegailDr. Tallahassee,FL32303. 850-
Central Florida Balloon Rallyin DeLand, up to 20balloons
SaturdayandSunday, with a Saturdayeveningglow. Flights
arenon-sanctionedcompetitions for prizes; paidridesavail-
Greater Sebring Balloon Festival, mid April, 50 balloons fly
four scheduled flights, Friday afternoon through Sunday morn-
ing in BFAsanctioned events; $12,500 in prizes. Contact: Rob
Schantz, P.O. Box 51591, Jacksonville Beach, FL32240. 904-
Contact: David Justice, 5930CorporatePlace C, Tampa, FL
The Great Sunrise Balloon Racein Homestead, end of April,
33173. 305-275-3317.Internet: www.sunrisegroup.org(events)
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park Hot-Air Balloon Clas-
sic, inLive Oak,15balloons flyonMother’s Dayweekend,
Sunday morning.Pilots split $3,000 purse. Contact: Rob Schantz,
P.O. Box 51591, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32240. 904-247-1241.
Millennium Challenge, 100 hot air balloons try to fly 50miles
from Bimini to Ft. Lauderdale, weekend before Memorial Day;
$80,000 purse, chase boats, admission fees. Contact: North
American Lighter Than Air Association, 30520 Rancho Califor-
nia Road, Suite 107214, Temecula, CA 92591. 909-676-3968.
active pilots live near Ft. Lauderdale.
Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, offers
another challenging place to fly.
forest just south of us, and the Gulf of
Mexico just south of that,”
outside town afew miles,
allowing pilots to fly over
fields filled with cotton or
jestic oak trees,” she said.
“Yougetupabove them and
Martindale, the unoffi-
cial leader of Hot Air Bal-
loons In Tallahassee,said
come and gone in the past
have to set the next meeting
A larger club, the Sun-
shine State Balloon Asso-
members, including 80 pi-
lots. About athirdofthe
members are in the Tampa
children’s home and mem-
bers participate infly-ins at
smallairports. A newsletter
Meetings areheld the
third Tuesday every other
month;alternative monthsare socialgath-
for balloonists, the rest of Florida can be
a great place to fly. “Florida is basically
flatland. It’slevel andvery open, withlots
of opportunities for landingsites,”Sprott
said. “There are lots of citrus groves. It’s
David Justice, of Tampa, who flew
the Disney balloons around the country,
stillplentyof landingsites,” he said. Sev-
eral small and mid-sized balloon rallies
are held in Florida each spring outside of
Tampa, inHomestead, Live Oak,DeLand
and Sebring. Many involvecompetitions.
hassee and ata ClubMed atPortSt.Lucie.
And a couple dozen balloonsfly opening
dayin Lakeland forSun and Fun,an
Oshkosh-style event hosted by the Ex-
perimental Aircraft Association.
Sprott said spectators used to be en-
thralled with ballooning when he began
“People don’t pay much attention to
it any more,” he said. “People are very
feet overhead and they’ve got to hear the
burner, but they don’teven bother to look
For a few years in the ’70s, balloon-
istsparticipated in a race from Bimini in
the Bahamas to the Florida
coast, about 60 miles away.
The event was organized by
Rohr. Some of the contes-
tants invariably landedin
the ocean. Fortunately,each
balloon had a chase boat.
“We did it five times,”
Rohr said. “Yeah, a couple
ofguys went in the water
about two miles off shore.
lope and saved the basket.”
wayto beat theBermuda
more daring,” Sprott said.
“They were pretty exciting
flights,really. We were car-
fuel. Iremember flyingover
a shipevery once in a while
and wondered, what in the
hell must they think of this
balloon passing by?”
most memorable flightsoc-
off from Lake Wailes. He
flew towardsWinter Haven
and had a tight landing in a
lot nextto a house. A sleepy
moved in, came out to see
the balloon that landed.
and she said, ‘I’ve got your
ring,’” Sprott said.
lost the ring in the lake in the ’60s. The
woman found it years earlier when she
stepped on itwhile swimming. Shefound
it, kept it in a box and moved away until
just days earlier, when she moved to the
houseSprott happenedto landhis balloon
“Fortunatelymy wife wasn’t there at
the time,” Sprott said.