A Trip down Hot Air Ballooning Memory Lane

I have some spare time and had been wanting to do this for some time, post some of the things that I’ve done over the years associated with my career with hot air balloons. I took my first ride back in 1973 with some guys from Dutton MI who came to the first Adirondack Balloon Festival that was held locally at Adirondack Community College. They gave me a ride in return for helping them out crewing since none of the Michigan guys knew anything about local area driving. It went from there…. I have saved in my photo file some pics from a Woody Allen movie project I was involved with back in the fall of 1979. I have a copy of my employment agreement as a “Day Player” which gave me the part of “Balloonist #1” for the “Woody Allen Fall Project” paying $225 per day (as a reference for movie pay, the 100s of extras for my part in the film were paid $50/day). My part was filmed at the Planting Fields Arboretum near Glen Cove LI.

In this first pic, I’m getting fitted in my fliers costume for my scene. Nice duds huh?

In thisĀ  photo are the 3 of us in our outfits who were there to fly an identical looking balloon for this particular scene. Myself, Gary Brady from Sherbrook PQ (at that time, now Florida I believe), and Chuck Erhler from Lexington KY.

This next shot was me doing a part that never made it into the movie. I was actually hung by a crane, simulating a balloon in flight. The lights strung around the balloon basket were powered by a gas generator. There was no such thing as miniaturization back then. The generator took up most of the room in the basket, leaving only room for 1-10 gal tank of fuel and the pilot. More on that later.

This last pic is a shot of the 3 balloons in flight. We were originally hired for 2 or 3 days and a rain date, and ended up down there for a month and half – Woody is very particular about everything with his shooting of scenes for his movies. For the time we were there, we only actually flew I think 3 times. The rest of the time, we just drove all around Long Island and went into NYC for something to do. This scene also had around 100 or so extras, plus support staff that were bussed out from NYC every day, except weekends naturally. Because of the shot above, I was invited to participate in an interior shoot that was set-up in a Bronx studio during the winter. This scene also never made it into the movie. All the major principals of the movie were in this particular sceneĀ  that took 5 days to set-up and shoot. Hey, it’s Hollywood-I guess??

On one of the 3 flights we actually did, I almost ended up heading out over Long Island Sound with only 10 gallons of fuel on board, remember that generator took up most of the room. And, probably just enough fuel to get far enough out in the Sound to be fish food. The field where the flight scene was set up, was a decent size for what was needed, including us-if the winds were calm-which they never were when the light was right for his shot. For the shot, we had to shoot up to a staggered altitude, lowest balloon maybe 100 feet, next 15o feet, and next, me, 200 feet or so, then immediately shoot an approach to land in the same field. Great idea for the film, except, every time we flew and got above the tree line, the wind was fairly strong. And on this one flight, I tried to shoot my approach to land but had to bail as I ran out of room to land in the same field, unless I wanted to pile into the extra’s tent like one of the other pilots did. So off I went at tree-top level looking for some room to land. Let me tell you, there are a lot of trees on the north shore of Long Island in the area we were operating. I kept looking for something, and the only thing I saw coming up was the water of Long Island Sound, knowing I did not have enough fuel to cross to CT, making a plan to try to land as close to the shore as possible. Fortunately, I came across a small hole in the trees and dropped straight down into someone’s back yard with the balloon. The movie crew had a van following me on the ground, and as I landed, quickly packed the balloon into the van and whisked me away. I remember a young girl and her mother watching from their back stoop and all I could do is wave as they took me back to the movie set. Woody is very secretive about his movies, guess it was the reason it was called “The Fall Project” rather than it’s real name, “Stardust Memories”. Rent the video, I still get a royalty check from the movie:-))

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