Dr. Winslow answers the questions:  How did you get started in hot air ballooning, and what have been some of your memorable experiences?

Ballooning is something I have been interested in since I was a child.  Back in the early 1970’s a balloon pilot came to Presque Isle and I went to see the balloon and talk with the pilot.  I looked at how the balloon was constructed and commented that I thought I could build one.  The pilot, Derald Young, told me that it wasn’t legal to build your own balloon at that time, and with a hefty purchase price for a balloon, the cost of lessons, and a license, it seemed that my dream was not possible.

Nearly thirty years later, I went looking for a balloon for a promotional event for my job.  I was referred to Derald who was still flying in central Maine.  When I called him, amazingly enough, he remembered me and even remembered that I had wanted to build one.  He told me that it was legal then to build your own balloon and referred me to Brian Carleton in Caribou, Maine.  I immediately called Brian whom I had never met before.  Brian invited me to go to his house and discuss building a balloon.  Derald had told me he was not available for the event I wanted to do, but felt I could get my own balloon built in time, and even offered to lend me tanks, or a burner, whatever I might need.

The same day I met Brian for the first time I ordered fabric, having never even flown in a balloon!  Brian was incredible!  He took me flying in his homebuilt balloon and taught me to fly while we also worked together to build my balloon.  During the time I was receiving training, I also had a chance to have some lessons from a pilot who had been in my high school class, Jim Thibodeau.  I also received lessons from other pilots, such as Wild Bill Whelan from Ottawa, Canada; and Gilles Tremblay from Gatineau, Quebec, as well as Ron Eades from Shawville, Quebec; and there were lessons from Derald Young as well.  It was Derald who scheduled my check ride, without telling me he’d done that.  It’s the flying test you take with an examiner to determine if you can get your license after you pass the written exam.  I had been putting it off, thinking I still needed more training, but Derald felt I was ready so he scheduled the flight and spent a lot of time reviewing questions I might be asked during the flight. 

All of the efforts of all of these great pilots, and especially Brian Carleton who spent so much time assisting me with building my balloon, paid off when I passed the check ride the first time and received my hot air balloon license (called “lighter than air”) on September 8, 2000.

Because back in the 1970’s my dream of ever building and flying a hot air balloon, much less every even having a ride in one were beyond the realm of possibilities for me, I named my balloon “Possibilities” because it was possible after all!

What was your most interesting flight?

I have been so fortunate to have been involved in so many aspects of ballooning, including flying in the Canadian Nationals with a record-setting female pilot friend of mine, Sandra Shannon Whalen; assisting with launching David Hempleman Adams for the first successful solo trans-Atlantic flight in an open gondola; building my balloon; and even the many stories and memorable flights I and my pilot friends have had; and most recently to be involved in the successful research and development phase of 30,000 cubic foot radio controlled airship.  It is beyond difficult to determine which flight would be my most interesting!

However, although very mundane and uneventful, my first flight in my new balloon after completing building it would have to be among my most favorite flights.  It was a pretty fall day in 1998, my family had gathered to assist with the launch.  I remember the feeling of seeing the balloon standing there, ready for launch as lots of pictures were taken.  It seemed to have taken on a life of its own!  Brian Carleton, my instructor and assistant in building the balloon, and I lifted off and flew the balloon over fields and woods, and eventually to a nice calm stand-up landing.

What made this flight so memorable was not the flight itself so much as the incredible feeling of having achieved a dream I had since I was a child.  It was possible after all, and my balloon “Possibilities” flew beautifully, in so many ways, on her maiden flight!

Among the other memorable flights I have had was on September 26, 2009 in Mancos, Colorado, when I was able to achieve my 10,000 foot flight with terminal descent.  This is a goal many balloon pilots have, but few have the weather conditions to achieve it.  In Colorado, we were flying not far from beautiful Mesa Verde so it was a spectacular flight, not only for the achievement, but also for the incredible views and location.

Another memorable flight for me occurred in the Met Life Airship.  Due to working on the radio controlled blimp at the former Loring Air Force Base, I met the pilots who fly the Goodyear and Met Life airships and was invited by Mike Fitzpatrick to go fly over New York City with him on July 10, 2011.  I had not previously flown in an airship and was thrilled for the opportunity.  As we were flying, Mike asked me to take off my headset and stand up, which I did.  He then took off his headset and told me to sit in the pilot’s seat because I was going to fly!  I was absolutely thrilled and enjoyed every second of flying the aircraft.

These days, I have also obtained my drone pilot’s license and enjoy flying my drone for fun.

Dena Flying Met Life Airship 2011
Dr. Winslow flying the Met Life airship towards New York City on July 10, 2011.