08/24/12 Hot air balloon pilots and crews are busy with the last minute preparations for this year’s Blueberry Festival exhibitions. One of the committee members, Jim Kunze, said this will be the 18th or 19th time that the launches will be held during the Labor Day weekend, September 1-3.
Kunze has been involved as a crew member for the last 24 years. He teamed up with a fellow hot air balloon enthusiast, Jeff Jones, some 21 years ago.
Five years ago, he and son Brian spent a year training to be pilots with Dave Bobel in Rochester. Kunze said, “Bobel could give us the training, but we had to take a test fight and an examination to receive a license from the FAA.”
Kunze will be manning the hot air balloon that carries the banner with the logo of WTCA AM1050 the Chief . Brian Kunze bought his first hot air balloon on July 4 of this year and will be piloting it during the festival. Kunze said, “It’s pretty amazing and pretty special to be flying along side Brian. He added, “It’s an experience that not a lot of people have.”
According to Kunze, there are only 3, 500 or so balloons in use across the United States. He said, “A balloon is only good for 500 hours, but should last about 12 years.”
Kunze said with the 19 balloons already scheduled and the addition of a unique dragon shaped balloon, there are open spots for volunteers to join the crews. He said, “It isn’t hard, but volunteers have to be willing to listen to the pilots.” Crews are used to unpack, launch, follow and re-pack the balloons. “It will take eight to ten people to get the dragon balloon up.” he said. “Chasers” follow the balloons in vehicles after the launches.
At some point, the Kunzes may take part in the large hot air balloon events held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kunze said, “Balloons behave differently out there.” He said his wife Renate has been a strong supporter of their hot air balloon efforts, but isn’t ready to give them the go ahead for New Mexico yet.
Those seeking more information about volunteering during the Blueberry Festival can reach Jim Kunze at 574-276-6558.
Carol Anders Correspondent