Who has not looked up into a summer or fall sky, seen a colorful hot air balloon drifting through a clear blue sky, and wondered: “What is that like?”
Kurt Vitense, owner of Velocity Ballooning, wants to give people that experience. “Surrealistic” is how he describes it.
Born in North Dakota, Kurt says he's been passionate about aviation for as long as he can remember. After graduating with a degree in aviation management from Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, OK, he worked his way up the ranks in aviation with flight instruction and flying charter and cargo planes.
He moved to St. Louis 25 years ago to fly corporate jets, and in 2018, he opened Velocity Ballooning. “I always had an interest in hot air ballooning, but I couldn’t pursue it in the midst of my flying career and having four small children at home,” he says. “Now the kids are grown, and I have the time.”
Explaining how the balloon operates, Kurt says the pilot controls ascending and descending, but going right and left depends on the wind.
“We are moving with the wind, and it’s very calm and serene. You feel no wind, and you are floating at 2,000 feet,” he adds.
Sometimes, people will see a balloon landing in an open area of a subdivision, or a park or a field along the road, and they will think it is an accident. “They see the fire from the propane burners and immediately think something’s wrong,” Kurt says.
“We are landing on purpose because the ride is over!” he laughs.
He says he bases launch sites on the winds for the day and the type of steerage they might have. “And the launch site is determined by the landing sites we’ll have at the end of the flight. We meet at a predetermined place to get in the chase vehicle and drive to the launch site,” he says.
“Once we’re there, the last determining factor is we fill latex balloons with helium and see what the winds are doing, which direction and how fast. Sometimes it’s the same as the wind models; other times, it’s different because weather is dynamic. We take a compass reading, and if that’s what the winds are doing with our readings, we’ll launch,” he says.
For those not quite ready to fly, Kurt has “tether” events where the balloon is tethered to the ground and goes up to 50 or 100 feet.
Kurt will take his “glow” balloon to corporate events, engagement or birthday parties, and other special occasions. “Couples get engaged, sometimes in the air or on the ground in the envelope,” he says.
Kurt also gives ballooning lessons.
“Aviation is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s who I am,” he says. “And now I get to share that love with hot air ballooning.”
For more information, call 636.364.8780 or visit VelocityBallooning.com.