Meet the 2020 Pilots

Ken Leota

Howell, NJ

My name is Ken Leota and I have been involved in ballooning for 37 years, along with my wife Janet. Our kids, Adam and Katie, have been crewing with us since birth! As things have progressed, Adam's girlfriend Courtney and Katie's husband Brandon are now part of the Team. We have been Very Lucky to have had long time friends/crew members, Vince & Patty, John & Rosie, and their families (as well as many others). One of the many things I love about Ballooning is the friends and smiles we have made over the years... looking back I wouldn't have changed a thing - except maybe starting sooner! We are truly Blessed to be able to share this wonderful sport with everyone we have met over the years!

"Sir Prize"

Sponsored By: VanCampen Motors

"Never Too Old"

Sponsored By: Intrada Technologies

Rudi Sachenbacher

Lowell, MA

Interested in ballooning since the ‘70s’ crewing for Tom Stodolski. Been a pilot since 1998. Countries flown in are France, Mexico, Canada. What I like most about ballooning is no time constraints, no schedules, no particular destination in mind, the whatever-whereever-whenever feeling that I get when I run away from home to go flying.

Robin's Balloon"

Bob Mueller

Pittstown, New Jersey

Have been able to use ballooning to foster my other luvs, traveling and meeting new people in new places. Thanks to friends and ballooning, I have been able to travel to and see other countries through the locals eyes, not just the back of a tour bus. Currently my other balloon is a RE/MAX and my place of choice is a room with a view of a runway.

Richard Buckles


Sponsored By:Eck's Garage

Rick Buckles

Williamson, New York

After taking a balloon flight in 1983 and crewing for several years, our first balloon, Typnady, arrived in 1987. Ballooning became a family activity with my wife, Nancy and our three sons Zane, Ian and Kyle all becoming crew chiefs. Fortunately family and many friends supported our love for ballooning which enabled us to fly throughout the states of New York and Pennsylvania and into Ontario Canada. Our balloon fleet grew over the years to include a one-man balloon built by Dave Steven, Bucklesup, and a 70,000 cubic Firefly, Rising Star. We have also added to the pilot list, our youngest son Kyle has his private certificate and is now working on his commercial rating.

Our family is excited to attend the Hughesville Balloon Festival and look forward to meeting residents and spectators.

When we are not flying we enjoy camping and walking in the woods.

Damon Flick

Williamsport, PA (currently live in Dansville, NY)

Got into this hobby after marrying into a ballooning family. After doing this for 17 years, the biggest thrill is seeing the reaction on new passengers faces. I’m also a long time member of the National Ski Patrol serving at Ski Denton and Swain. When not ballooning during the summer, you can find me riding my Sea-Doo either in the Finger Lakes or 1000 Island regions of New York.

Damon Flick

"Prism Too"

Sponsored By:


Gene Burnstein

Brick, NJ

Started crewing in 1994 and became a pilot in 1998. Over the years I’ve enjoyed helping to bring ballooning closer to kids, including volunteering time and balloon at various BFA's junior balloonist camps as pilot / instructor, and then director. The balloon name came from my hobby - using paperclips to create artistic items (including a working miniature carousel on loan to the New England Carousel Museum). Each of crew member receives a single paperclip pendant in the shape of a balloon.

"Destination Unknown"

Mark Stodolski

Sterling, MA

After crewing and piloting other balloons for thirty years, a common question always asked by new crew or passengers, “Where do you land?” Therefore, when I purchased my balloon 8 years ago, I chose the name, “Destination Unknown”

Been a pilot for 35 years, 17 years (Private & Commercial Pilot), 18 years student. Ballooning for 44 years (June 1976) - First time seeing a balloon and tether ride in the rain at my sister’s high school graduation party in my parent's yard. My Uncle Tom was a student pilot and Charlie Manning and Sue Hall brought their balloon to the party. Owned balloons for 12 years.

My crew is family and friends that are very dedicated, knowledgeable, and ready to go at any time. Without a good strong crew, a pilot cannot fly and have a safe, fun, and successful flight. Thank you very much, “Crew”!!!

Christmas vacation 1977, my Uncle, Tom Stodolski, gave my brother Bob and I our first balloon flight. After 20 minutes, we landed to swap propane tanks and my brother for a friend. After another hour of flying which included sliding across a frozen lake, I began to feel ill. When we landed I immediately went to my Uncle’s car and laid down in the back seat and was unable to help pack up. I find this story so interesting because I am the only family member to follow my Uncle’s footsteps and become a hot air balloon pilot.

Other hobbies include old muscle cars, I still have my first car I bought in 1980 a 1970 Plymouth Duster 340, Curling yes the sport with the stones and sweeping, and riding motorcycles.

Sponsored By:Dittmar Fuel

Chris Sommers

Slatington, Pennsylvania