Hudson Hot Air Affair :: 2021 Balloons

Hot Air Affair Pop Up Balloon Launches

Balloon Launch

15+ hot air balloons will launch from various locations around Hudson. Fill up your coffee cup, peer out your home or car windows and look to the sky for winter balloon color!

This year because of COVID-19, the exact launch locations will not be announced. Our online updates will provide timing and general information on where to look for balloons in the sky. The public will NOT be allowed at the launch sites.


Morning Balloon Launch: Saturday, February 6 at 8:00 am

Drive-Thru Balloon and Candlestick Glow: Saturday, February 6 at 5:30 pm

Morning Balloon Launch: Sunday, February 7 at 8:00 am

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

2021 Balloons

Check back in mid-January for updates and details about the balloons that will be joining the 2021 Hot Air Affair.

2020 Balloons

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 ninth year together. Mark is an information technology manager and has been a pilot for 12 years. He looks forward to visiting Hudson each year with his 1997 Firefly balloon. Thanks to Anderson Heating and volunteers Richard and Sharon Young—who help promote HHAA year-round. Plus they’ve stepped up to serve as HHAA treasurers and joined the event’s leadership team.

Nifty Gadget

Balloon Name: Nifty Gadget
Pilot: Chris Keefe, Cross Plains, WI
Sponsor: Belle Vinez Winery

Welcome back sponsor Belle Vinez Winery and long time pilot Chris Keefe.  Chris has been ballooning for 40+ years with 280 hours as pilot in command.  Belle Vinez is the Zimmerman family winery—with 3 generations sharing in the work and fun!  They enjoy being a balloon sponsor plus we all enjoyed their wines at the Taste charity event in January.  They poured their new release “Free Spirit”!

Blue Loon

Balloon Name: BlueLoon
Pilot: David Koenig, Menasha, WI
Sponsor: Carbone’s Pizzeria – downtown Hudson

Welcome new balloon sponsor Carbonne’s—Downtown Hudson and long time HHAA 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 40 years, logging over 1,250 hours as pilot in command.  Carbonne’s has been a longtime HHAA supporter and is sponsoring a balloon this year.  Check out their pizza sandwiches when you’re in Hudson!  The BEST!


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

Catalyst Sports Medicine owner John Knutson, a founding committee member of HHAA, and pilot Larry Nickolay have been together forever.  Larry’s bringing the Montgolfier, a 1983 replica of the original balloon hand made by Dave and Sue Johnson for Matt Wiederkehr.  It will be a joy to see it flying in Matt’s honor.  John’s the one with the hot air—check him out as the long-time announcer of smoosh boarding.


Balloon Name: Aerogami
Pilot: Rose Eakins, Webster, WI
Sponsor: Comfort Suites of Hudson

HHAA is pleased to welcome back Rose Eakins, the pilot credited with bringing the first winter balloon rally to Hudson.  It was 31 years ago when she served as the first balloonmeister and invited her ballooning friends to visit Hudson and share some winter flying.  The rest is history!  She’s paired with Comfort Suites of Hudson—a HHAA supporter since they opened in Hudson.

Blue Diamond

Balloon Name: Blue Diamond
Pilot: Rodney Newkirk, Rochester, MN
Sponsor: Crestview Family Dental

Welcome Crestview Family Dental as a balloon sponsor this year.  We appreciate your support over the years of sponsoring a variety of HHAA activities.  They’re paired with pilot Rodney Newkirk.  He’s a private pilot and carpenter by trade who’s been ballooning for 13 years and has attended HHAA as both a pilot and crew member.


Balloon Name: Moonshadow
Pilot: Anne Susko, Milford, IA
Sponsor: Deanna & Mike Grigus

This is the sixth year Deanna and her husband Mike are balloon sponsors. Deanna is a committee member and photographer—sharing her spectacular ballooning shots in numerous publications this year.  Anne’s a third-generation pilot whose parents met ballooning in the 1980’s. She’s been flying since 2010 and her favorite places to fly include the Black Hills of South Dakota and the St. Croix River Valley.

Valley Girl

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

Jim was on the pilot roster when the HHAA started 30+ years ago and has been flying ever since. He’s the aeronaut 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 crafts and great breakfasts too!

Fred G. Monster

Balloon Name: Fred G. Monster
Pilot: Bennett Schwontkowski, Gallatin, TN
Sponsor: Family Fresh Markets - River Falls and New Richmond

Welcome back Fred G. Monster!  You were a huge hit last year and we’re thrilled that the Family Fresh stores in River Falls and New Richmond brought you back.  The flying green guy is 80 feet tall, 75 feet wide, and a whopping 450 pounds.  The Family Fresh Markets are helping underwrite the balloon education events in area schools—a program Fred’s pilot Bennett Schwontkowski helped start at HHAA a couple decades ago!

Fire And Frost

Balloon Name: Fire & Frost
Pilot: Ed Chapman, Shakopee, MN
Sponsor: First State Bank and Trust

First State Bank and Trust in downtown Hudson likes being a balloon sponsor and Ed likes flying the St. Croix Valley.  He also likes flying the Alps—and just came home from several weeks of flying the mountains in Europe.  Ed’s a 40+ year pilot with 27,000 hours flying time—2,750 of those hours in balloons.  Thank you First State Bank and Trust for your continued support of HHAA.

Pete's Baby

Balloon Name: Big Daddy
Pilot: Steve Jacobs, Lakeland MN
Sponsor: Holiday Inn Express & Suites - Hudson

Hudson’s newest lodging property hopped right into being a HHAA balloon sponsor—welcome aboard Ron and crew!  The new 100 room hotel is just north of I-94 and offers free breakfast, the most modern amenities and fitness center.  They’ll join pilot Steve Jacobs, owner of Stillwater Balloons in Big Daddy, his 16 passenger rainbow colored aerostat.

Pete's Baby

Balloon Name: Big Daddy
Pilot: Steve Jacobs, Lakeland MN
Sponsor: Hudson Ford

This is the 10th year of 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 at the Torchlight Parade each year.  Steve Jacobs’ Stillwater Balloon Company is an icon in the St. Croix Valley and Steve’s been flying for 30 years with more than 1,300 hours as pilot in command.

Freedom Flight V

Balloon Name: Freedom Flight V
Pilot: Luke Cesnik, St. Cloud, MN
Sponsor: Hudson Hot Air Affair

Welcome back Luke—a former HHAA balloonmeister and long-time participant in HHAA.  Luke’s day job is as a computer consultant but his passion is flying POW/MIA balloons around the country.  He’s been ballooning for 30 years with 1,300 hours in the sky as pilot in command.  The Hot Air Affair hosts VIP and media flights during the event and Luke represents us all well.

Not Named

Balloon Name:  This New Balloon Needs a Name
Pilot:  Nathan Dieringer, Menasha, WI
Sponsor: Hudson Hot Air Affair

Thanks Nathan for bringing your specialty balloon to HHAA.  When the form asked for balloon make and size, Nathan answered:  Dieringer, Nathan W (Experimental Homebuilt) AX6.  Come ask Nathan what it takes to build your own balloon from scratch!  He’ll be flying for HHAA—sharing a lighter than air experience with media, a VIP or special guest.


Balloon Name: Bubbles
Pilot: John Bullock, Genoa City, WI
Sponsor: Hudson House Grand Hotel

What a great match—a 31 year balloon sponsor and a pilot who started his flying career with a visit to HHAA.  John’s family attended the HHAA in 1998 as spectators, got the ballooning bug and bought their fishy fun aerostat from another HHAA pilot.  The Hudson House Grand Hotel is our HHAA headquarters where you’ll find Booster Bingo on Saturday afternoon and evening.  All proceeds to youth sports programs in Hudson.


Balloon Name: DejaVu
Pilot: Brian Bennett,
Agency, IA
Sponsor: Hudson Vintage Neighborhood Alliance

Longtime sponsor Hudson Vintage Neighborhood Alliance group is back with a new pilot this year.  Brian Bennett’s making his first trip to Hudson from Iowa with his National 858 multi-colored balloon.  He’s been flying for 39 years and requested a sponsor with a mobile hot cocoa dispenser.  Knowing the Neighborhood group—that might just be possible!

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 anchors for 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 during a challenging time. Glenn’s also a star volunteer at the local schools for education programs.

Livin' It Up

Balloon Name: Livin' It Up
Pilot: Terry Dorshorst, West Salem, WI
Sponsor: Living with Dementia Balloon/FirstCall Medical Monitoring/St. Croix Electric Cooperative

This is the fifth year for the Living with Dementia Balloon—thanks to the St. Croix County and St. Croix Electric Cooperative sponsors for providing a positive experience for a person living with dementia. Terry’s a flight nurse/pilot in Hudson for his third time.  He’s got a new balloon but the same love for ballooning and sharing it with as many people as he can along the way.

Full Throttle

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

Pete and Jacob are a 2-generation team with a long history at HHAA.  Pete’s a former Hot Air Affair Balloonmeister who’s a technical director of the Loparex plant in Hammond.  Pete’s been flying for about 30 years and has logged 425 hours as pilot in command.  Jacob’s following in his dad’s footsteps as a pilot and this is his second year of official participation in HHAA although he’s grown up attending the winter event in Hudson with his family.

Jacks Up Sky

Balloon Name: Jacks Up Sky
Pilot: Ken Walter, Waukesha, WI
Sponsor: MidWestOne Bank

Ken Walter is bringing his racer balloon to HHAA this year.  This Lindstrand 60X is the style of balloon that wins races and the checkerboards and up and down arrows win attention.  MidWestOne Bank steps up each year to bring a specialty balloon to Hudson and here’s another crowd favorite.  Look for Ken as one of the pilot committee in charge of this year’s ballooning event.


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

Welcome back pilot Don—who’s been flying for 6 years.  Don’s an imaging services manager looking forward to his third year at HHAA.  Thanks everyone at Minuteman for all your HHAA help each year—whether it’s printing, ad specialties, banners or short notice copies.  Pete and Cindy are always there to make things happen when we need them!


Balloon Name: RE/MAX
Pilot: Doug Schmidt, Rochester, MN
Sponsor: RE/MAX

Doug is flying for RE/MAX this year covering portions of Wisconsin and Minnesota.  He’s been ballooning for 36 years with more than 600 hours as pilot in command.  We’re pleased Doug’s joining us in Hudson this year—we’re among dozens of community festivals and special events where you’ll see a RE/MAX balloon.  Let’s celebrate the long time partnership of HHAA and RE/MAX!

Air Forge

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

A 30-year pilot with 700+ hours in the sky, Mike holds a commercial rating for his Firefly balloon.  He’s back with a special HHAA 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 offering a balloon flight experience to someone touched by cancer.


Balloon Name: Phoenix
Pilot: Wynn Gustafson, Arden Hills, MN
Sponsor: River Valley Converting/Anchor Paper Co.

River Valley Converting and their owner Anchor Paper Co. are pleased to again partner with HHAA by providing the paper stock for the brochure.  They offer their ride each year to a person battling cancer.  Wynn’s record of HHAA attendance is unrivaled and he’s been flying forever with nearly 1,000 hours as PIC.  He’s flying the Phoenix—the “True Spirit of Fire” from mythology.


Balloon Name: Touchstone Energy
Pilot: Scott Wooge, St. Louis, MO
Sponsor: St. Croix Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy Cooperative

Welcome Touchstone Energy’s balloon and pilot to HHAA.  Scott’s planning a busy schedule with tethered rides at St. Croix Electric Co-op in Hammond on Friday, flying events at HHAA in Hudson over the weekend and another tether time at Big Guy’s BBQ Roadhouse south of Houlton Sunday afternoon.  Look for Touchstone’s new wrapped vehicle around the area during HHAA.

Joint Custody

Balloon Name: Joint Custody
Pilot: Dale Dommer, Pearland, TX
Sponsor: St. Croix Lanes

Dale is a long time HHAA veteran who’s been flying for 28 years.  He will be flying Joint Custody—named because his family and friends own the balloon in Ottumwa, Iowa and Dale moved to Texas.  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!


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

A private pilot and carpenter, Mike has been flying balloons for 26 years.  He’s been a HHAA pilot for more than two decades…welcome back for more fun!  The crew from The UPS Store helps out with printing some of the HHAA materials—check out this year’s Up Nort’ themed school program booklet put together by Mary Martin, Brittany Schultz and Jacki Bradham!

Northern Lights

Balloon Name: Northern Lights
Pilot: Missy Cool-Junker, Steve LeMay and Mike Murray, Stillwater, MN
Sponsor: The Women from Milwaukee

How’s this for longevity?  The Women from Milwaukee have been attending HHAA for more than 2 decades.  Pilot Missy Cool-Junker and balloon owner Josh Cool are part of a 3-generation ballooning family.  Josh and pilot Mike Murray are long time committee members.  The Women from Milwaukee have been parade grand marshals, smoosh boarding helpers and now balloon sponsors.

Big Pine

Balloon Name: Big Pine
Pilot: Dave Johnson, Minneapolis, MN
Sponsor: VC Valley Companies

Dave is a 40 year pilot having flown in the very first HHAA event.  He flew many thereafter and is back for one more time.  He and his wife Sue, also a balloon pilot, built the iconic Montgolfier Balloon which will be flown again this year.  VC Valley Companies is joining the HHAA for the first time—and was honored as Hudson’s Large Business of the Year at the recent Chamber awards banquet.


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

Viking Electronics helps bring special fun to the Torchlight Parade on Friday night.  We’re pairing 17 year HHAA veteran Mike with the Viking crew.  Mike’s flying the colorful Peacock—a black balloon with red, blue, orange, yellow, purple and pink highlights.  He’s been flying balloons for 24 years and has 715 hours as pic.  Thanks Viking Electronics for your long time continuous support of HHAA.


Balloon Name: Wildfire
Pilot: Sonja Belgarde, Sun Prairie, WI
Sponsor: WESTconsin Credit Union

Long time corporate sponsor WESTconsin Credit Union is partnering with Sonja Belgarde this year.  Sonja’s been flying for 3 years and this is her second year at HHAA.  Thanks to WESTconsin Credit Union for all their support of HHAA year-round—they’re always there to help us promote at community events.  They’re having a new design for cups at the marketplace.  Check them out!

Madam Blueberry

Balloon Name: Madam Blueberry
Pilot: Keith Knefelkamp, Lakeland, MN
Sponsor: Bill & Barbara Wetzel

Welcome back sponsors Bill and Barbara Wetzel, new Hudson residents last year who love the St. Croix River.  You have lots in common with your pilot Keith Knefelkamp—you ride the waves of the St. Croix in your boat.  Keith rides the winds over the St. Croix in his balloon basket.  Keith’s been ballooning for 8 years and flies commercially for Stillwater Balloons.  We captured a photo of Wetzel’s house last year as the balloons floated over Hudson.

Pink Lightning

Balloon Name: Pink Lightning
Pilot: John Parezo, Sioux Falls, SD
Sponsor: Woodland Hill Presbyterian Homes

Welcome back sponsor Woodland Hill—a quality residential community offering senior apartments, assisted living, memory care and additional services.  Welcome back John—we appreciate you making the trip from South Dakota.  This is John’s second pilot visit to Hudson.  He’s a teacher who has been ballooning for 17 years with about 250 hours as pilot in command.

Rubber Duckie

Balloon Name: Rubber Ducky
Pilot: Bob O'Brien, Waupaca, WI
Sponsor: Zappa Bros

We recognize charter balloon sponsor Zappa Bros—this is the 31st time the local company has partnered with HHAA to make sure our field is plowed and E.P. Rock launchfield is ready for balloons and visitors.  An annual favorite—Bob and Mary Jo’s Rubber Ducky makes everyone smile.  Bob’s been at HHAA for 27 years, just 1 year less than his total pilot life.  You’ll see Rubber Ducky all over the country spreading smiles nationwide.