Daren Wilde always had his eye to the sky. But after piloting T-37s and T-1A Jayhawks for the USAF, he was up in the air about what aeronautical challenge to tackle next.
Wilde is sharing his saga with 11 passengers standing in a wicker gondola that’s attached to a 100ft tall bright red balloon filled with 245,000cft of air. It’s just another day at the office for the aeronaut owner of Morning Star Balloons in Park City, UT.
As a newbie, I had my qualms. But the aerial trek proves to be the polar opposite of what I envisioned. I’m not alone. We’re collectively in awe of how this experience is downright therapeutic.
Our journey is calm, quiet and smooth. It’s also warmer than on the ground thanks to a propane-fueled burner that Wilde frequently blasts for lift.
Gently floating at 1,420ft, we spot fields, wildlife and estate homes with the Wasatch Mountains and Park City as a backdrop. Since it’s summer, ski runs are bare. Yet, that makes it easier to differentiate Utah Olympic Park, Deer Valley, Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort.
Wilde explains that since balloons rely on air currents, he can’t precisely nail down our landing site pre-flight. We’re not concerned. A chase crew follows us below, tapping into maps, two-way radios and visual contact.
Since we land before they arrive, teamwork mode kicks in as two hulky passengers hop out and work as crew. Wilde encourages participation, whether it’s rolling out the balloon before lifting off or harnessing it in after landing.
“When you’re trying to bring a group of people together, there’s nothing like a little adventure or a situation that needs handling,” says Wilde. “Once they’ve conquered the balloon together, they’ve developed camaraderie. It’s a fun activity that can be shared across all levels of leadership or organizational structure.”
Back on terra firma, we toast to our lofty fete as Wilde presents each of us with a “Certificate of Ascension” and recites the Balloonist’s Prayer.