By Clarke Harbold
Silently surfing the skies above North Carolina is an unexpected sight that has locals scratching their heads in amazement. This wondrous spectacle is The Aero Club of America-NC Chapter’s new Padelt 24,000 cubic foot gas balloon. Bert Padelt’s newest design, the balloon is not as large as those flown in the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett or the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race and is collectively owned by the club’s twenty members.
The first flight occurred in June 2013, in Meadville, PA, at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Thurston Classic Hot Air Balloon Festival. Based in Statesville, NC, the balloon has brought nostalgia back to the skies on two occasions, November 30, 2013 and February 23, 2014. The first flight landed in Burlington, NC and the flight in February landed in Danville, VA. Typical flights take off several hours before dawn and land late morning. The club’s aim is not the maximum distance flying of these events but rather to enable gas ballooning to occur with the club model. Flights will taper off during the thunderstorm season but will be scheduled when the weather window presents itself.
Flights are announced and can be tracked on the club’s Facebook page, Aero Club of America. The balloon carries a SPOT tracker and you can follow the flight on your computer or mobile device, via a link on the website.
Aero Club of America-NC Chapter founding members are Sam Parks, Statesville, NC; Bert Padelt Barto, PA; Mike Emich Akron, OH; Ken Draughn Burlington, NC; Andy Baird Stockbridge, MI; Ted Watts Saegertown, PA; Al Nels Beavercreek, OH; Fred Grotenhuis Phillipsburg, NJ, Louis Vitanza Hillsborough, NJ; and Clarke Harbold, Charlotte, NC. Ten associate members are James Duncan Columbus, NJ; John Piper Pearl River, NY; Herman Schwalbe Cherry Hill, NJ; Mark MacSkimming Harrisburg, PA; Marc Klinger Troutman, NC; Trevor Blount, Chesapeake, VA; Andrew Nels Atlanta, GA; Joan Padelt Barto, PA; David Gidzinski Cedarville, NJ
and James McKnight Richmond, VA.