Hudson Hot Air Affair :: 2018 Balloons


Hot Air Affair Balloon Launches

Balloon Launch

All launches are from E.P. Rock Elementary School
at 13th & Summer Streets, Hudson WI


Morning Balloon Launch: Saturday, January 27th at 7:35 a.m.
Afternoon Balloon Launch: Saturday, January 27th at 3:00 p.m.
(This is an optional flight if morning flight launched or a mass ascension if morning flight was canceled.)
Moon Glow or Field of Fire: Saturday, January 27th at 6:30 p.m.
Morning Balloon Launch: Sunday, January 28th at 7:35 a.m.

The latest announcement on weather and flight information will be posted on the home page or facebook before scheduled balloon launches on Saturday and Sunday.

Additional balloon and sponsor information will be added as it becomes available. Please check back later for more balloon listings.

Northern Lights

Balloon Name: Northern Lights
Pilot: Missy Cool-Junker and Mike Murray, Stillwater, MN
Sponsor: American Family Insurance/Tammy Belisle Agency

It’s a family thing! New sponsor American Family Insurance/Tammy Belisle Agency has a connection to balloon pilot and committee member Mike Murray. And balloon pilot Missy Cool-Junker and balloon owner and committee member Josh Harp-Cool are family. And Josh and Mike share committee promotion jobs for pre-events. It’s all in the Family!

Cloud Nine

Balloon Name: Cloud Nine
Pilot: Mark Naber, Big Bend, WI
Sponsor: Anderson Heating

Welcome back sponsor Anderson Heating and balloonist Mark Naber for their sixth year together. Mark works in information technology and has been a pilot for 10 years. He says he looks forward to participating with the sponsors each year with his 1997 Firefly balloon. Thanks to Anderson Heating and volunteers Richard and Sharon Young—who help promote Hot Air Affair year-round. They recently dressed as the Snow Queen and Royal Guard for HHAA at the Ice Castles in Stillwater.

Cotton Candy

Balloon Name: Cotton Candy
Pilot: Corey Gaddis, Sioux Falls, SD
Sponsor: Belle Vinez Winery

It’s about family with new sponsor Belle Vinez Winery and pilot Corey Gaddis. Corey was at HHAA years ago but got out of the sport in 2009 to raise kids. His wife bought the current balloon to get them back flying and the kids named the balloon. Belle Vinez is the Zimmerman family winery—with 3 generations sharing in the work and fun! Welcome as a new HHAA sponsor! 

Blaser SwissLube

Balloon Name: Blaser SwissLube
Pilot: Rick Piendel, Annville, PA
Sponsor: Blaser SwissLube

People ask how pilots and balloon programs from all over the US find Hudson. Rick Piendel and his crew chief wife Rita are friends with former HHAA volunteer “Launchfield Larry” Swistoski—and Larry recommended us. Blaser SwissLube is a Switzerland based company in the metal working industry and Rick coordinates the company’s American balloon fleet. Welcome to Hudson Rick and Rita!


Balloon Name: Scotch
Pilot: Larry Nickolay, Newport, MN
Sponsor: Catalyst Sports Medicine

We’re keeping together one of HHAA’s favorite combos. Catalyst Sports Medicine owner John Knutson, a founding committee member of HHAA, and pilot Larry Nickolay have been together nearly every year since HHAA started in 1990. Larry’s got the experience with 40+ years in ballooning and nearly 1,500 hours as pilot. John’s got the hot air—check him out as the long time announcer of smoosh boarding. 

Liberty Bell

Balloon Name: Liberty Belle
Pilot: Bill Marhoun, Belview, MN
Sponsor: Comfort Suites of Hudson

Welcome back Comfort Suites of Hudson—you’ve been a balloon sponsor of the Hot Air Affair since opening in Hudson. The hotel is paired again with Belview, MN pilot Bill Marhoun. Bill’s flying the red, white and blue slant design aerostat with 10 stars across the top. The Liberty Belle project, which provides hot air balloon flights to vets, is out of Rochester, MN.


Balloon Name: Touchdown
Pilot:  Zach Burgess, Louisville, KY
Sponsor: County Market

What does Hudson have that Minneapolis and a giant football game doesn’t have? A very large special shape football hot air balloon! This is the second trip to Hudson for the brown “Touchdown” balloon with white laces—a winter getaway from Louisville, KY. Pilot Zach Burgess is a 14-year pilot with more than 500 hours pilot in command. Thank you County Market for helping with the football theme balloon! 


Balloon Name: Moonshadow
Pilot: Anne Christensen, Chisago City, MN
Sponsor: Deanna & Mike Grigus

This is the fourth year Deanna and her husband Mike are balloon sponsors. Deanna is a committee member and photographer—in fact, the official Royal Frog Photographer at the Stillwater Ice Castles! Anne’s a third-generation pilot whose parents met ballooning in the 1980’s. She’s been flying the St. Croix Valley for the past year. She’s flown in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Stratobowl and Albuquerque. 

Valley Girl

Balloon Name: Valley Girl
Pilot: Jim Wohlwend, Lakeland, MN
Sponsor: Dick’s Bar & Grill

Jim was on the pilot roster when the HHAA started 29 years ago and has flown more than 1900 hours since. He’s flying for long-time HHAA supporter Dick’s Bar & Grill. Jim can be found flying the fleet of balloons at Aamodt’s Hot Air Balloon Rides and helping support the Hot Air Affair year-round. Thanks to everyone at Dick’s for the countdown event for kids—great pictures and great breakfasts too!   


Airganic Garden

Balloon Name: Airganic Garden - Family Fresh Market
Pilot: Bennett Schwontkowski, Cary, IL
Sponsor: Family Fresh Markets - Hudson, New Richmond, and River Falls

Many kids say it’s their favorite—the special shape balloon sponsored by Family Fresh Markets. The balloon features an attention getting design that includes two giant monarch butterflies, two red tomatoes, a 25-foot-tall apple basket, strawberries, peaches, cinnamon sticks, a classic barn, five cows and two horses on a vivid blue and green background. Thanks for hosting a countdown event again this year.

Blue Loon

Balloon Name: Blue Loon
Pilot: David Koenig, Menasha, WI
Sponsor: First National Community Bank

Welcome back sponsor First National Community Bank and pilot David Koenig. In addition to being an aficionado of experimental and 1-man balloons, David is a scientist who once worked at NASA. He’s been ballooning for 37 years, logging 1,150 hours as pilot in command and this is his 8th Hot Air Affair. First National Community Bank has been both a balloon and event sponsor—thanks for your support!    

Jill & Tedd’s Excellent Adventure

Balloon Name: Jill & Tedd’s Excellent Adventure
Pilot: Tedd Maxfield, Austin, MN
Sponsor: First State Bank and Trust

Welcome back this fifth-year balloonist and sponsor combination. First State Bank and Trust in downtown Hudson likes being a balloon sponsor and Ted likes flying in Hudson. Ted’s balloon has lived in New Mexico, Missouri and Arkansas before moving to Austin, MN. Excellent Adventure enjoys flying in Austin because the air is filled with the aroma of Spam cooking at the Hormel Foods factory.   

Not Yet Named

Balloon Name: Not Yet Named
Pilot: John Rucker, Genoa City, WI
Sponsor: Hudson Ford

This is John’s seventh year as a pilot at Hot Air Affair, having been a crew member in Hudson for four years. He’s been flying for eight years and has 280 hours in the air. This is the 8th year sponsorship for the local automotive dealership under current ownership and a long-time balloon sponsor prior to that. Thanks to Hudson Ford for helping us out when we call!

Madam Blueberry

Balloon Name: Madam Blueberry
Pilot: Keith Knefelkamp, Lakeland, MN
Sponsor: Hudson Hot Air Affair 

Welcome back Keith as a HHAA pilot—pairing the Stillwater Balloons’ fleet with the HHAA committee. Keith flies the St. Croix Valley as one of the pilots for Stillwater Balloons and he plans to greet visitors Friday night in the Torchlight Parade. A big thanks to Steve Jacobs and the pilots from Stillwater Balloons for their year-round support of HHAA and our activities.

PH One

Balloon Name: PH One
Pilot: Pete Asp, Sullivan, WI
Sponsor: Hudson Hot Air Affair

This is Pete’s first pilot visit to Hudson. He has been ballooning for 38 years and says he’s made a meager living at it since 1982. He operated a passenger flight business until 2016 and has the only balloon repair station in Wisconsin. He’s been active in pilot training and is the FAA Designated Pilot Examiner for balloons for Wisconsin. Pete built PH One in 1995 and has done numerous design upgrades on it since

Air America

Balloon Name: Air America
Pilot: Larry Konash, Shakopee, MN
Sponsor: Hudson House Grand Hotel

Larry will be carrying charter HHAA balloon sponsor Hudson House Grand Hotel—29 years of partnering with our event. It’s a great combination as Larry’s the manager of a balloon insurance company and his staff helps with pilot check-in at the Hudson House Grand Hotel. This is a power team behind the scenes making Hot Air Affair a success every year!


Balloon Name: Grand Euphoria II
Pilot: Rich Jaworski, Blair NE
Sponsor: Hudson Vintage Neighborhood Alliance

Rich and the Hudson Vintage Neighborhood Alliance group are quite the team! Look for them at the Torchlight Parade Friday night—they’re always a highlight.  Rich has been flying for 45+ years with 2,875 hours logged as pilot in command. He holds many aviation records and we’re thrilled that he continues to visit Hudson each year. When asked for a balloon description, he said “Same Old Balloon—Same Old Pilot”!

Sedona Sunset

Balloon Name: Sedona Sunset
Pilot: Glenn O’Connell, Gilberts, IL
Sponsor: Lift Me Up Balloon-John & Evy Nerbonne

Glenn and his sidekick Brian Schwontkowski, along with Hudsonites Nancy and Gary Fouks, have been the gems of the Lift Me Up Balloon for many years. They provide a balloon ride each year to people touched by cancer. An hour in Sedona Sunset can be a bright spot in a dark time. Glenn’s also a star volunteer at the local schools for education or special programs.


Ridin High

Balloon Name: Ridin High
Pilot: Terry Dorshorst, West Salem WI
Sponsor: Living with Dementia Balloon/FirstCall Medical Monitoring/St. Croix Electric Cooperative

This is the third year for the Living with Dementia Balloon—thanks to the St. Croix County and Wisconsin sponsors for providing a positive experience for a person (and family) living with Dementia. Welcome Terry to Hudson—this is the first year for the flight nurse/pilot to join us. He’s been flying for 7 years and will be “Ridin High” with some special HHAA friends.

Full Throttle

Balloon Name: Full Throttle
Pilot: Pete Riehle, Forest Lake, MN
Sponsor: Loparex, LLC

Pete’s a former Hot Air Affair Balloonmeister and he’s paired with his employer as a sponsor. He’s a technical director of the Loparex plant in Hammond. Pete’s been flying for 28 years and has logged 390 hours as pilot in command. In addition to his own balloon, Pete helps Aamodt’s Balloons and Stillwater Balloons as a pilot for their companies in the St. Croix Valley… he even has a balloon named for him!

Nifty Gadget

Balloon Name: Nifty Gadget
Pilot: Chris Keefe, Cross Plains, WI
Sponsor: Mallory's Restaurant & Rooftop Bar

Welcome back Chris and Mallory’s! Chris is an old friend of HHAA—we’ve traveled the ballooning circuit with Chris for well more than 20 years—remember the old days of the balloon rally in Wisconsin Dells? Mallory’s is one of Hudson’s favorite restaurants—the perfect place to start your HHAA weekend before the Torchlight Parade Friday night. Check out their heated rooftop bar!

Jacks UpSky

Balloon Name: Jacks UpSky
Pilot: Rod VanWyngeeren, Waukesha, WI
Sponsor: MidWestOne Bank

A big thank you to MidWestOne Bank for sponsoring two balloons this year—the special shape Uncle Sam and another unique shape—the unique Lindstrand 60X racer. Rod’s a realtor who’s been flying for about 20 years and has logged more than 550 hours in the air. Thanks Rod for your help at the media flight and Torchlight Parade.

Uncle Sam

Balloon Name: Uncle Sam
Pilot: Frank Urbanski, Dakota Dunes, SD
Sponsor: MidWestOne Bank

Welcome back an old friend—the Uncle Sam balloon piloted by Frank Urbanski. Uncle Sam was pictured in the 1992 HHAA brochure when it was part of the Soukup and Thomas Balloon Museum special shaped balloon fleet. The folks at MidwestOne Bank have been talking to Frank since they met at last year’s HHAA—planning the appearance of Uncle Sam and making their plan a reality!


Balloon Name: Flo
Pilot: Don Dumke, Florence, WI
Sponsor: Minuteman Press

Welcome new pilot Don—who’s been flying with his family for 4½ years. Don’s daughter attended balloon camp a few years ago and it was Don’s first time to see a balloon in person. He told his wife, “we are buying a balloon.” She wasn’t convinced so they went to Fiesta in Albuquerque and she said, “we are buying a balloon!” Thanks everyone at Minuteman for all your HHAA help each year. 


Balloon Name: Bubbles
Pilot: John Bullock, Genoa City, WI
Sponsor: Pier 500

Welcome John and sponsor Pier 500. John’s been a pilot for about 15 years and says his family started ballooning because of the HHAA. They attended in 1998 as spectators and got rides. They bought their balloon from Bill and Bonnie Marhoun—who they met at HHAA—and Bill taught John how to fly.  Welcome back Pier 500—the perfect spot to watch the Torchlight Parade Friday night—check out the igloos!     


Balloon Name: Sparky
Pilot: TJ Olson, Sioux Falls, SD
Sponsor: PressEnter!

This is T.J.’s second year at HHAA, flying long time event supporter PressEnter! Thanks to PressEnter! for hosting our web site and coordinating the photo contest again this year. T.J. is a seven-year pilot who’s an architect when not in the sky. His first appearance in Hudson was in 2016. When asked for HHAA requests, he said, “Please let the weather be flyable!” 

RE/MAX Results

Balloon Name: RE/MAX
Pilot: Mike Sommer, Deer River, MN
Sponsor: RE/MAX Results

Welcome back to Mike who will be flying the popular red, white and blue balloon in Hudson this year.  He’s been a balloonist for 35 years, logging 600+ hours as pilot in command. Look for Mike and his RE/MAX balloon in the media flight and Torchlight Parade. RE/MAX has been listed in every HHAA brochure since 1991. Thanks for the incredible support!

RE/MAX Maximum Exposure

Balloon Name: RE/MAX Maximum Exposure
Pilot: Ken Walter, Waukesha, WI
Sponsor: RE/MAX INTEGRA, Midwest

Ken’s back this year with his RE/MAX balloon. We appreciate Ken’s help with media flights, school programs, the Torchlight Parade and our balloon event committee.  Ken is a corporate RE/MAX pilot covering portions of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Ken and Kay’s three sons are experienced balloon enthusiasts who specialize in television interviews—including the national news from Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque! 

Air Forge

Balloon Name: Air Forge
Pilot: Mike Reinert, Alta, IA
Sponsor: Richard Pierce Memorial Flight

A 28-year pilot with more than 650 hours in the sky, Mike holds a commercial rating for his Firefly balloon. He’s back with a special program again this year.  Richard Pierce was a passenger in HHAA 2010 and lost his battle with cancer shortly after the event. His widow Kathy (and HHAA committee member) is again partnering with the Hudson Relay for Life to offer a balloon flight experience to another cancer patient. Have fun Andrew! 

Hocus Pocus

Balloon Name: Hocus Pocus
Pilot: Dale Dommer, Ottumwa, IA
Sponsor: St. Croix Lanes

Dale’s a 10 year HHAA veteran who’s been flying for 27 years. He’s a terminal automation specialist—not sure what that means but Dale’s an expert at it! You’ll find Molly Johnson plus family and friends crewing for Dale. When not chasing Dale’s balloon, Molly’s an active HHAA volunteer helping to coordinate pilot activities—thanks for all the hard work throughout the year Molly!

Ski Lift

Balloon Name: Ski Lift
Pilot: Bob Pulaski, Pineville, LA
Sponsor: Amanda Francescato/State Farm Agency

Welcome new balloon sponsor Amanda Francescato. Her State Farm Agency was an event sponsor last year but moved over to the flight side this year. She’s joined (for his first trip to Hudson) by Bob, a 34-year pilot from Louisiana. Bob says he’s still afraid of heights and is the only Polish balloon flight crew operating in the Pelican State. He says his best balloon flight was the last one and the next one.

Pete's Baby

Balloon Name: Pete's Baby
Pilot: Steve Jacobs, Stillwater, MN
Sponsor: Stillwater Balloons

Thanks Steve for being a friend of HHAA year-round. He donates his time and use of his equipment to HHAA. You’ll see a Stillwater Balloons basket at the Hudson Hilltop Pumpkin Party, Yellowstone Trail Day and RiverFest—plus he’s there when we need a balloon prop for a photo op. His Stillwater Balloons company is an icon in the St. Croix River Valley—offering passengers a special memory for a special occasion.


Balloon Name: Sabrina
Pilot: Mike Klawitter, Eland, WI
Sponsor: The UPS Store

A private pilot and carpenter, Mike has been flying balloons for 24 years. He’s been a HHAA pilot for more than two decades and flies a 77,000 cubic foot Head balloon. The crew from The UPS Store helps out with printing many of the HHAA materials—check out this year’s school program booklet put together by Mary Martin and Jacki Bradham!

US Bank

Balloon Name: US Bank
Pilot: Scott McClinton, Louisville, KY
Sponsor: US Bank-Hudson

Welcome back to Hudson Scott! The US Bank balloon has been a great addition to Hudson’s winter festival for 13 years. The balloon helped the bank celebrate construction of a new building on the Hill and flew at HHAA for nearly every year since.  Scott’s a 30-year veteran of balloon aviation with more than 2,300 hours as pilot in command. Thanks Hudson US Bank for sharing a bit of Louisville with us again this year.

Cloud Dancer

Balloon Name: Cloud Dancer
Pilot: Bill Bucher, Shorewood, IL
Sponsor: Viking Electronics

The folks at Viking Electronics are long time HHAA supporters who help bring special fun to the Torchlight Parade on Friday night. You’ll have HHAA fun with third year event pilot Bill Buchar. He’s an airline pilot in his other aviation life and liked Hudson so much that he’s back on the pilot roster for 2018.  Thanks Viking Electronics for all you do for HHAA! 


Balloon Name: Phoenix
Pilot: Mike Lesmeister, Rochester, MN
Sponsor: Viking Electronics

Mike’s a 22-year pilot (with more than 15 years at HHAA) and shares the Greek mythology story that the Phoenix is a bird associated with the sun and is regenerated—rising from ashes of its predecessor. Viking Electronics has been synonymous with Hot Air Affair fun for decades. They help underwrite many HHAA programs and thus earn a second balloon in the annual winter festival and balloon rally.

Starburst of Destiny

Balloon Name: Starburst of Destiny
Pilot: Bethany Reuter, Mapleton, MN
Sponsor: ViXX Converting/Anchor Paper Co.

ViXX Converting and their owner Anchor Paper Co. are pleased to partner with HHAA by providing the paper stock for this year’s brochure. A year ago Bethany lived in New Mexico to train and receive both her private and commercial LTA ratings. She flew in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and completed a mountain flight over the Sandias. She flew in her first official rally at Arcadia in the Ashley for the Arts Festival.

Rubber Duckie

Balloon Name: Rubber Duckie
Pilot: Bob O'Brien, Waupaca, WI
Sponsor: WESTconsin Credit Union

Best friends of HHAA—9-year corporate sponsor WESTconsin Credit Union and 23 year HHAA pilot Bob with his special shape balloon. Bob recently returned from the Albuquerque balloon festival and says they flew every day with 5 of the flights working the Albuquerque Box. He said it was great flying, great crew and great friends! WESTconsin Credit Union has tickets for the Taste of Hot Air Affair—pick them up at the Hudson office.

Little Cindy

Balloon Name: Little Cindy
Pilot: Lindsay Berger, Stillwater, MN
Sponsor: Woodland Hill

Welcome back sponsor Woodland Hill—a quality residential community offering senior apartments, assisted living, memory care and additional services. This is Lindsay’s first year flying in HHAA. She grew up in the St. Croix Valley and went on her first balloon ride when she was 6 years old and got hooked. A long time crew member for Aamodt’s, she started flying and earned her pilot certificate in 2015.

April Love

Balloon Name: April Love
Pilot: Steve Johnson, Duluth, MN
Sponsor: Zappa Bros.

Making his 23rd visit to Hudson, Steve’s again paired with charter balloon sponsor Zappa Bros. Steve’s a professional pianist & entertainer who also enjoys aerobatics. He’s flown more than 2 dozen types of aircraft including sea plane, amphibian & biplane. Look for Steve’s entry in the Torchlight Parade—he’s a regular in the winners’ circle with his fun creations! Thanks for helping with our school programs too!