For many, the season of giving is year-round, and a part-time Mt. Crested Butte hot air balloonist has joined up with other pilots around the world for friendship and a mission of compassion.
Chad Morin is a third-generation pilot and a balloon flight instructor who spends his summers in Chicago for work and, for the past five years, his winters in Crested Butte. “My grandfather flew bombers in WWI, and I knew I wanted to be a pilot before I was five years old,” Morin says. His father owned Warbirds, antique aircrafts used in World War One through the Korean War, that enthusiasts still keep flying.
“My father was one of those enthusiasts, and he also owned a balloon. He bought his first balloon in 1982 when I was six and those were the best years of my childhood,” Morin says of his inevitable path to follow in both his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
The community of balloonists and pilots is small, so when Spanish manufacturers of the aircrafts, Ultramagic, put out the word about a project to help a small village in Ghana, Africa, the message spread quickly. Ultramagic had six Ghanians employed in their factory, with whom the owners traded stories during the workday.
“The owners found out that the village, Amoma, where the Ghanians came from, had no school building, only an open air school and they didn’t have a reliable source of water, no communal well,” Morin explains.
“So [Ultramagic] built a particular balloon with the theme of passing it around the world to different pilots to raise money and awareness to the plight of this village, to build a school and possibly a solar-powered well. Anyone involved—pilots, crew, passengers—was spirited to raise money.”
So far, Ultramagic has raised about $4,500 of the approximately $50,000 needed, but the project is only in its infancy. The village of Amoma currently has a school with 60 children and a teacher, but with no building they have to hold the classes outdoors. When it’s raining, very hot or windy, it’s too uncomfortable to have classes so they’re cancelled. The proposed new school building will be adapted to fit their needs and incorporate a modular design for expansion.
The second project, also proposed by the Ghana workers from the Ultramagic factory, is to bring water to another village. The well that the villagers currently use is situated one and a quarter miles from their homes, so they have to haul in their water for cooking and washing, which takes hours. The plan is to bring the water to the village, preferably with a solar pump. Ultramagic estimates this project to cost around $7,500.
Ultramagic’s website lays out the plan and the route that will allow the balloon to fly around the world over the next four years, with between 300 and 400 flights. The countries the balloon has been flown to include Finland, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Canada and all over the U.S.A.
The flights are always made by different pilots to allow as many pilots as possible to fly the “Friendship Balloon,” since they’re also trying to set a Guinness World Record for most pilots to fly a single balloon. It also enhances the concept of friendship to have a multitude of different pilots flying worldwide. “If the full goal is accomplished we will probably have achieved at the end of this project a world record as the balloon piloted by the largest single number of pilots. Even more so, it could also probably achieve a world record as any aircraft piloted by the largest single number of pilots that have flown the aircraft only once,” Ultramagic writes.
Since the first flight of July 12, 2013, more than 165 pilots have flown the Friendship, with Morin being number 166. But setting the world record really isn’t the main focus of the Friendship Balloon project and Ultramagic is committed to seeing that the Ghanian villages get clean water and a school. “This project will be completed, no matter how much money is collected with the Ultramagic Friendship Balloon. If insufficient contributions do not arrive in time to achieve the project, Ultramagic will cover the difference needed,” according to the Ultramagic website.
“We’re such a small community that I know the majority of pilots who have flown. There’s no one paying us to do this, we pay for the fuel,” Morin says. He notes that the balloons run off propane. “I had the balloon for three days. I launched from Blue Mesa campground and flew over the Curecanti Recreational area. I took a total of three passengers and did two hops.” Morin explains that a “hop” is when you barely land the balloon and take off in a sort of kiss-the-ground maneuver. “We dipped into the Gunnison River, a maneuver called a ‘splash and dash.’”
Morin handed the balloon off to the next pilot, who trucked it from Gunnison to Monument Valley, Utah, and he feels honored to have been part of the project.
“I’m just one of the lucky pilots who got to fly the balloon,” he says, and adds, “I got to show off a valley that I absolutely love. I was lucky to be part of this project because of the scope. It was fulfilling for me to be part of a large-scale event and I flew for fun. I got to fly where I consider home and where I want to be.”
Morin plans to eventually retire to the Crested Butte community. “I feel that we, as a valley and community, were represented in this project. Out of all the places I’ve flown over the world, this is the most beautiful.”
Donations to the Ultramagic Friendship Balloon Project, for the NGO charity for the Ghana school and water project can be made only through the Ultramagic website at ultramagicfriendship.com. For more information on Chad Morin’s pilot classes or ballooning visit his site, cbballoon.com.