Ballooning Aroostook
Dena L. Winslow, Ph.D.
Copyright 2020 - All Rights Reserved.

crown of maine balloon festival 1
Crown of Maine Balloon Festival – Dr. Winslow flying “Possibilities” in the center.

Aroostook County is the perfect place for ballooning of all sorts.  The Trans-Atlantic flights can easily get up high and into the jet stream for trips across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first two successful Trans-Atlantic flights launched from here.  In addition, the wide-open farm fields and friendly landowners make for the ideal location for hot air ballooning.  The former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone served as the site for the successful development of an unmanned blimp in the late 2000’s.  There was also an attempted crossing of the Atlantic by a cluster balloon pilot, Jonathan Trapp, who launched from Caribou in September of 2013.

Hot air ballooning began in Aroostook County, as it did in many places, with daredevil shows in the 1930’s and 1940’s that took place during the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle and at other locations.  The pilot would build a big fire with which to heat the air inside the massive balloon envelope out on the infield of the horse racing track.  Ascending into the sky before thrilled crowds, the pilot would wave to the cheering spectators, later to parachute to the earth and ultimately retrieve his balloon envelope from where it landed – and do the show again the next night.

Today in a quiet field just south of Presque Isle, there is a small clearing with a replica statue of the “Double Eagle II”, the balloon that made the first successful Trans-Atlantic balloon flight ever.  This is the field where the balloon launched on Friday, August 11, 1978 carrying Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman aloft.  They landed 6 days later on August 17 in a wheat field in Miserey, France, about 45 miles west of Paris.  One Presque Isle woman watched the launch along with between 4 and 5 thousand other people from the field that evening, and her husband, stationed in France in the Air Force at the time, was sent to fly a special mission… he flew an airplane that accompanied the balloon to a successful landing when it reached France.  Thus, Presque Isle was represented on both sides of the Atlantic for that spectacular historic flight.

North of Presque Isle, in Caribou, the first successful solo Trans-Atlantic balloon flight launched from a small clearing where a monument to the flight stands today.  On September 14, 1984, Joe Kittinger, Jr., already a noted aviator with many records to his credit, launched his balloon, the “Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace.”  He landed 4 days later on September 18 in Montenotte, Italy. 

Tom York, Dr. Winslow’s son, and Col. Joe Kittinger, Jr. Basketmobile 2009
Tom York, Dr. Winslow’s son, and Col. Joe Kittinger, Jr. riding in the “basketmobile” that Tom and Dena created from a used balloon basket of the type that Joe used to fly.  This is in the 25th anniversary parade held in Caribou to celebrate Joe’s successful trans-Atlantic solo balloon flight in September 2009.

Dr. Dena Winslow and Col. Joe Kittinger, Jr. 2009
Dr. Dena Winslow and Col. Joe Kittinger, Jr. in Caribou, September 6, 2009.

With a life-long fascination with hot air balloons, and the help of many other balloon pilots along the way, Dr. Dena Winslow became the first licensed female pilot in Aroostook County on September 8, 2000.  She and Brian Carleton, a pilot from Caribou, had built her balloon “Possibilities” in 1998. 

After attending several balloon festivals, Dr. Winslow thought that Presque Isle would be a great location for a balloon festival and began working with the Chamber of Commerce in Presque Isle and the Northern Maine Fair Association towards what has now become the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival.  In September of 2004 the first balloon festival, then called, “Isle Fest” was held with 3 balloons flying, Dr. Winslow being one of them.  She not only started the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival, but also served as the first Balloonmeister for the event for several years, and trained the volunteer crew members who participated.

Dr. Winslow flying “Possibilities” over Presque Isle Stream 2004
Dr. Winslow flying “Possibilities” over Presque Isle Stream in Presque Isle during the 2004 “Isle Fest” balloon festival.

In 2007 Dr. Winslow was recruited to work on the unmanned blimp project at the former Loring Air Force Base.  The project ran through 2010 and resulted in the successful accomplishment of the development of unmanned aviation using blimps.

Unmanned Blimp Project
Unmanned blimp project at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone.

In September of 2013, Dr. Winslow was one of the people who assisted Jonathan Trappe with preparations for his Trans-Atlantic attempt with a cluster balloon.  On a warm, very humid evening, in a small park in Caribou, volunteers, including Joe Kittinger, Jr, and Orestes Lorenzo, worked to inflate the many balloons needed for the flight, and to assemble them into the cluster balloon.  It was a well-orchestrated event which lead up to the launching of the unusual balloon just at sunrise the next morning.

Balloons filled in the park in Caribou
Balloons filled in the park in Caribou, ready for assembly into the cluster balloon.

Jonathan Trapp Trans-Atlantic Balloon Cluster
Jonathan Trappe making final preparations to launch the cluster balloon for his trans-Atlantic attempt.