Meet the next generation of hot air balloon pilots

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Countless families have celebrated Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque for the last 51 years – but to keep the tradition going, we’ll need new pilots to hop in the gondolas.

Some families instill the love of ballooning early. Some kids start working on balloon crews well before they can drive. So, the natural next step is piloting the balloon.

“That’s called the crown line and it is attached to the top, or the crown, and when we are first starting I’m just keeping in place and make sure the balloon doesn’t rocket up when he goes hot,” 15-year-old Christian Speicher explained.

Christian’s dad is the pilot of the “Gut-Wrenching” balloon and is based right in Albuquerque. Christian has been coming to Balloon Fiesta for pretty much his entire life and for as long as he can remember, he’s wanted to be a balloon pilot.

“My dad has been doing it basically his entire life so I was raised in it and then I thought it would be really cool to become a pilot,” Christian explained.

But he’s not the only kid who’s keeping his eyes – and goals – on the skies.

“My dad is a balloon pilot and when I was little, he always took me up. He’s been doing that for like 30 years,” 18-year-old French balloon pilot Mael Gourinel explained.

“I have been here for 13 years – my first flight was when I was two,” said Ashlyn Wellz, Albuquerque native and “the best darn crew chief you ever did see.” Her family flies the “Guilty” balloon.

“I started ballooning around 12 years old,” said pilot David Adler, who is now 27.

KOB 4 also asked 10-year-old Ryat Hall what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without missing a beat he replies, “A hot air ballooner!”