By PETER KASPARI
Messenger staff writer
On a sunny day in Webster County, some may have looked up in the sky and noticed a large, red Budweiser balloon floating in the air.
Their eyes aren't playing tricks on them.
The Budweiser balloon was bought by a local group of people who have an interest in ballooning.
Steve Kersten, a local attorney and judge for Webster County Magistrate Court, is one of the six co-owners.
Kersten, who has been flying hot air balloons since 1972, said he's no stranger to flying the Budweiser balloon.
"In the '80s and '90s, I flew the Budweiser balloon for Jim Humes, who is the Budweiser distributor here in town," he said. "He asked me to fly his balloon on occasion in the '80s and '90s."
Kersten said in 2000, the envelope, which is the part of the balloon that inflates, had gotten old and was no longer safe to fly.
The balloon remained a memory until 2011, when a new envelope was created.
Kersten and five others - Nick Drzycimski, Bennet O'Connor, Don Woodruff, Jane Humes and Kersten's cousin Jim Kersten - pitched and bought the new envelope.
In addition, Kersten said the envelope uses the same basket and burners that were part of the original Budweiser balloon.
Kersten, a licensed flight instructor, is in the process of teaching the five other club members to fly the balloon.
"They have to have 10 hours of instruction with me, and 10 hours of solo flight," he said. "They've already passed the written exam, and then they have to pass a flight exam with an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) inspector."
He added what makes this balloon unique is the fact that it has two burners.
"You have two complete, separate systems," he said. "It's like having two engines on a plane. If something goes wrong with one, I still have a whole other one I can work with."
He said the balloon has been flown 16 times so far, and that this time of year is usually the best for flying.
"There's lots of places to land right now," he said. "Starting next month, 90 percent of the fields will be planted, and it's really hard to find a field without crops, or a road ditch without telephone wires or power lines."
Kersten said when flying, it's important to pay attention to the weather and time of day.
"You always fly either early in the morning and be done before nine, or you fly after 5 in the afternoon," he said. "It's a 70-foot high balloon, which is 90,000 cubic feet of air that goes inside the balloon. It's a huge sailboat, and if you've got 10 miles an hour of wind blowing it around, imagine what 70 mile per hour winds would do."
Ideally, Kersten said winds should be between 5 to 6 miles per hour, which are ideal take-off conditions. He said the balloon can go faster once it gets higher into the air, but added the balloon can only go up and down.
"So I have no idea, when I take off, where I'm going to land," he said.
Because of that, Kersten said, landings need to be planned while in the air. He said if those in the balloon decide to land in a distant field, they need to calculate the distance and start the landing process long before reaching the location.
"You can't steer it like a race car," he said. "You need to anticipate what's going to happen."
The people up in the air are helped out by a "chase crew," a group of people who follow the balloon on the ground.
Kersten added the balloon is powered by propane, and his tanks usually last up to three hours.
When it's not in the air, the balloon is stored in the Woodruff Construction warehouse on a trailer.
"The whole envelope packs into a bag about four feet in diameter and three feet high," he said. "It has to be stored inside, out of the elements. You don't want it getting wet."
The balloons are inspected once a year.
"There's an annual inspection for the envelope, basket, piping, hoses, propane tanks and burners," he said. "They're put through a very strenuous test every year."
Contact Peter Kaspari at (515) 573-2141 or email@example.com