Hot Air Ballooning with West Michigan Balloon Association
Episode 7519th August 2022 • Total Michigan • Cliff Duvernois
00:00:00 00:26:41

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Hot Air Ballooning is very much alive in Michigan! And the West Michigan Balloon Association works hard to make sure that people of all ages can enjoy the thrill of this beautiful sport. Derrick Jones, Director of the West Michigan Balloon Association shares with us about the history of his organization, what their mission and goals are, and how this sport has inspired so many people to enjoy hot air ballooning.

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Transcripts

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[00:00:19] Cliff Duvernois: So what makes Michigan a great state? I'm glad you asked.

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[00:00:41] Cliff Duvernois: And you Michigander are coming along for the ride.

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[00:00:48] Cliff Duvernois: Hello everyone. And welcome back to another episode of the Call of Leadership podcast. Today, we're gonna have a really fun podcast. I have actually been to a couple of the events for the West Michigan Balloon event association, as they've been around Michigan, dazzling us with their beautiful balloons.

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[00:01:17] Derrick Jones: I'm good. How are you?

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[00:01:24] Derrick Jones: Certainly right now live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I grew up in the Battle Creek, Michigan area.

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[00:01:33] Derrick Jones: I went to college at Western Michigan university,

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[00:01:37] Derrick Jones: Business and aviation

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[00:01:43] Derrick Jones: sort of

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[00:01:46] Derrick Jones: yeah. So battle Creek. For a long, long time. Since 1981 has been a staple for hot air ballooning in the country. for many years when I was a kid, my dad and I would go out and we would crew for the local balloon pilots that were flying their balloons in the evening. And that's really what got us and got myself hooked in the sport of balloon.

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[00:02:15] Derrick Jones: certainly. So when you study and you actually go for your pilot license, you obtain your pilot license and then you obtain ratings. So an LTA lighter than air is what that stands for. LTA is hotter, ballooning, and that. Different sets of regulations. But the pilot license itself is the same. And then you get your rating for that.

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[00:02:56] Derrick Jones: Pretty much since I was a, a young kid, I started crewing when I was eight years old. And, uh, I then led into my first balloon flight when I was 12. And that was from a very well known pilot by the name of bill MERTK. He was from Houston, Texas, but he traveled up with this family as a family trip to battle Creek Michigan for the event that we held in battle.

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[00:03:38] Derrick Jones: And then when I was 16, I took my private test, my private, uh, for my pilot license. And, uh, then once that was done, I, I got my own balloon. I was actually worried cliff about getting my own hot air balloon versus getting a car. So that's where my priority was when I was 16.

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[00:04:05] Derrick Jones: Yeah. Yeah. I had I had used my dad's company truck and I thought if I can use my dad's company truck and I can also use that as a chase vehicle. Let's get a hot balloon. And so when I was 16, I spent many years mowing on. Shoveling driveways working for my parents getting that chore money, but I literally banked everything I possibly could and saved up to buy the balloon when I was 16.

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[00:04:52] Derrick Jones: And that really was, uh, the way to compensate for the cost and the expenses of the balloon insurance fuel, everything that just, it's a very expensive sport. And then. I really thought this is great, but this is not something that I wanna do for business. So I got in the auto industry and the auto industry has been my career since I was eight 18.

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[00:05:25] Cliff Duvernois: Beautiful. So I, I wanna go back and unpack a couple things that you talked about there, cuz I wanna make sure, you know, we get some clarity on some points. So for hot air ballooning, it's not just, you know, some dude sitting on a couch, eating a bag of Cheetos that he says, you know what, I'm gonna go out and buy a hot air balloon with no experience.

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[00:05:47] Derrick Jones: Correct? Yes, it is a federal registered aircraft with an end number. We have our own set of federal aviation regulations, which we call ARS. But yeah, you have to be certified. You have to be licensed and, uh, in order to buy a balloon, you've gotta, have that ability to, um, prepare yourself. Take your test. Get through your check ride, get through your solo flight, just like you would a normal pilot license to fly a.

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[00:06:46] Cliff Duvernois: And, and I know that safety is a really big thing. Why don't you talk to us a little bit about how those. Those weather briefings come about and how you go about making the decisions about whether you're going to fly or not fly

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[00:07:21] Derrick Jones: And what this allows us to do is as that helium balloon. Once we let it go and it, it starts to rise. It gives us an idea of how far it is off the ground and the speed of how fast that helium balloon is going. And we do this for several reasons. One, we want to see what the wind is physically and actually doing and see how well it matches our forecast and our current conditions on what's being reported by meteorologist.

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[00:08:08] Derrick Jones: We look at our pressure. The winds, the speed, the direction all comes into play as we, plan our flight, whether it be in the morning or in the evening. Now here in the Midwest, we fly two hour window. After sunrise and two hours before sunset. And the reason why we do that is we have the calmest conditions at those times here in the Midwest.

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[00:08:46] Cliff Duvernois: So now I can understand from like, let's say like a competition standpoint where you get a bunch of balloonists together and you're gonna go out there and compete, and you've got access to all of this, you know, this equipment, like you were talking about letting this balloon up into the air and being able to measure these things.

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[00:09:16] Derrick Jones: Certainly I can't speak for everybody, but the, the majority like myself, when I go to fly we'll look at the weather. We'll look at all of our. Data, the weather data, look at what the, uh, high pressure and what the low pressure is doing in our area. We still have helium and the helium balloon in pie ball that we send up.

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[00:09:53] Derrick Jones: No go decision based on safety, but whether I'm by myself or with a group of people, the flight planning for me is the thing.

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[00:10:24] Derrick Jones: Well, that's a great question. Many years ago, I. A higher balloon event because I saw the fellowship, the camaraderie what it does for family, friends, the community sponsors, other organizations teams that need community service volunteers to be a part of, uh, community event. It is ultimately the reason why I started the balloon event.

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[00:11:13] Derrick Jones: In battle Creek, Michigan, it's not gonna happen. And when people told me that it was. I needed to have my team on board with me, my committee, the board of directors the volunteers, the sponsors. I needed everybody to believe in me and believe what I had to, share if you will, with everybody. And the first year it was difficult, but we had a great time.

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[00:12:03] Derrick Jones: We had numerous sponsors. And to this day I look back at. As a decade of family fun. And it was something that I had the passion to keep going, keep doing and bring everybody along with me because no one really believed that we could have a balloon event in the dead winner in Michigan. And we did. And the memories are still talked about today.

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[00:12:43] Derrick Jones: And it's a constant education of blooming too, where conditions may be. Beautiful outside sunny light winds on the ground, clear skies, but at 200 feet, the winds 25 miles an hour, and the conditions are just not safe for us to fly. And that's, that's an education where a lot of people don't know that they don't deal with the sport every single day.

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[00:13:24] Derrick Jones: What that led into with that passion and now all of these people that said, ah, we can't, there's no way it's gonna happen now. See, saw it happen. And now they continue to see it happen. We've brought ballooning to many cities across the state of Michigan and, uh, continue to do that. So it's, it's truly been just a, a wonderful journey.

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[00:14:07] Cliff Duvernois: I mean, obviously it's a success, right? You're talking about 7,500 pilots showing up. Thousands of people are showing up. You've been doing it for 10 years. So, mole top for that. But when you first started this, what made you think, oh, I'll just do it in December. I mean, why not do it in, August before the kids go back to school or, June, just as the kids are getting out.

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[00:14:47] Derrick Jones: So. That was really a midway point that we could get together. It was, it was a unique event. It was exclusive, there was no other events like it, there was no organizations doing a winter event and that's how we pulled pilots from Wisconsin in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and even Missouri.

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[00:15:30] Derrick Jones: Some of the, um, some of the flights, we, I mean, the pictures are beautiful. We had eight inches of snow on the ground. It was 10 degrees outside. And what else is there to do in Michigan in December? Right. Besides skiing snow before we might as well do some ballooning as well. And some of those conditions, heat rises very nicely when it's cool out heat doesn't rise in heat.

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[00:16:09] Derrick Jones: We ran it from 90. To 2000 eight. And then we closed the chapter of the holiday balloon Fest as a decade of, fun family fun. And to this day, people still want me to create and bring back the holiday balloon Fest, but we've gone, uh, in a different direction. And continuing to grow with other balloon events throughout Michigan, we brought ballooning to Frankie moth, Michigan 15 years. Which has been a, a wonderful run. They continue to, um, host that event on Memorial day weekend during their annual dog bowl in Franken. it was an honor. We, we actually brought ballooning to Frankenmuth. The last week of January during their snow Fest competition. So during their snow Fest competition, which is a huge international event that they have in the ice sculptures and the snow sculptures, we also had hot air ballooning and that's how it all started in Frankenmuth.

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[00:17:19] Derrick Jones: So there's another avenue we took to continue to grow. We also started Kalamazoo balloon Fest. We kicked that one off and, um, 2013 that one is hosted at gold medal farms. It is actually coming up. It's the end of August. So the end of this month, it is, uh, August 26th, seventh and eighth at gold medal farms.

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[00:18:02] Derrick Jones: So my team thinks I'm crazy, you know? But we kicked off Hudsonville balloon days. In, we are in our third year for Hudsonville balloon days, and that's held over father's day, weekend in June at unity Christian high school in Hudsonville, Michigan. And then, uh, another one that we kicked off, which is absolutely a phenomenal area to fly.

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[00:18:45] Derrick Jones: And that event is called balloons over bay Harbor. It's a very unique. It's almost a gem of a balloon event because the, the area that we are able to fly the conditions with all the water around us, we really can't fly anywhere else in Michigan with the exception of this area in bay Harbor.

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[00:19:07] Cliff Duvernois: important. You know, this is actually very impressive, cuz I did not know or understand that. There were so many of these ballooning events that were going on in Michigan. So first off, thank you for sharing all these. This was really caring for our audience. We'll make sure to include the links to these down in the show notes down below the, the question that I got for you that I'd like to circle back on real quick is, is obviously this is a lot of work.

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[00:19:49] Cliff Duvernois: And I imagine there's probably some level of security that's running around. Why did you decide to go through all this in the first place to start creating these events?

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[00:20:20] Derrick Jones: It is a lot of work. There is no question. It is nonstop year round planning but it's all about relationships and the people, you know, so, you know, a lot of these folks we work hand in hand with throughout west Michigan Kalamazoo. The grand rapids area. And even up in bay Harbor in the Paska area, we have a lot of clients in all of those areas.

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[00:21:06] Derrick Jones: But it's also a win-win because of all the relationships in all the people, you know, you know, I go back to you say it takes a lot of money and all of the, uh, Gosh, uh, minutia, if you will, that goes into running a balloon event. Each city is different. The people are different. The policies and procedures are different.

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[00:21:45] Derrick Jones: So we basically. Have an operating budget like anybody else when it comes to an event that we are getting sponsors other organizations to partner. It's all about communication. It's all about relationships and we have to have that and it's, it's gotta be a good solid foundation or I'm not interested in partnering.

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[00:22:21] Derrick Jones: And those are very difficult decisions to make, but you really, as a volunteer, in addition to your full-time career, you really need to manage your time. Very, very tight

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[00:22:55] Cliff Duvernois: And they actually got me into crew. Yeah. And that was, that to me was just a beautiful experience all the way around. I mean, I was lucky enough to actually get into balloon and fly, but just to be there and just to help out the teams and everything else was just incredible. So why don't you talk to us a little bit more about, the volunteering and the crewing that happens?

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[00:23:34] Derrick Jones: Where you were the conditions of the weather when you crude on the hot balloon for that first time, am I right?

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[00:23:43] Derrick Jones: See, so that's exactly what I'm speaking of is giving that opportunity, making it a memorable experience because it's it is such a unique sport and it's really a gift to be on the crew.

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[00:24:18] Derrick Jones: Cuz it may change. But it's also the memories that you have each and every flight is different each opportunity when you're out whether you're flying in Northern Michigan, Southern Michigan balloon events, competition, there's so many different attributes and there's so many different things that take place that are different.

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[00:24:44] Derrick Jones: forget

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[00:24:57] Derrick Jones: Certainly, well, obviously, if you know anybody that is. Or, you know, any balloon pilots that's gonna be your start is to reach out to them. Say I'd love to crew. I'd love to be a, a part of your, uh, crew. If you don't know any crew members or pilots, all of our Facebook pages, which are balloons over bay Harbor, Kalamazoo, balloon Fest, Hudsonville, balloon days, all three Facebook pages.

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[00:25:31] Cliff Duvernois: Awesome. And, uh, Derek, if somebody's listening to this podcast and. They want to connect with you or they wanna connect with the west Michigan balloon events association or anything else, what would be the best way for them to do that?

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[00:25:47] Cliff Duvernois: Awesome. And for our audience, we'll make sure to have those links plus everything else that he was talking about. As far as the events goes in our show notes down below Derek. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I've really learned a lot. Thank you.

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