1977-1999 - A Long Time Passes...
Boy loses balloon, boy finds balloon again...
After attending Rockwell, I studed Chemical Engineering at University College Dublin from 1977-1981 and, after graduation, came to the USA to do my PhD, again in Chemical Engineering, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. While I retained my interest in ballooning, I was too poor and too busy to get any more involved than keeping up with reading about, and looking at pictures of, balloons.
That was followed in 1987 by my marriage to Carol, and the arrival of our four children in 1989, 1991, 1995 and 1998. In the meantime, in 1996 I left Yale to work with my own software startup. So, balloons were at most a wistful memory for me throughout that time period.
Since Carol works in New York city, we'd been living in Stamford, CT, halfway between New York and New Haven. Since we both had sabbatical leaves in 1994, we moved to Orange, CT, a few miles from New Haven.
Orange is a small town that is part suburban and part rural, home equally to commuter professionals, modern businesses and working farms. One of the highlights of the year in Orange, in mid-September, is the Orange Country Fair a traditional agricultural and crafts fair. In 1999 I was with my 2 older children at the fair while Carol was home with the little ones when, from our perch on the top of the Ferris wheel, I saw a car and trailer pull onto the fairgrounds with a familiar-looking wicker basket on the back of the trailer. I almost jumped off the ride in excitement. My children knew I was interested in balloons, so we made our way over to the balloon after alighting from the ride.
The balloon crew were busy, not least with crowd control, so I didn't try to talk to anyone, but watched and explained the process to the kids as the balloon was inflated. It was a planned tether, so the balloon did not fly away, but ascended and descended for a while, connected to a tether rope system. Finally, the pilot deflated it, and we helped (along with many others) to pack it away.
Later that evening, still elated from my brush with an old passion, I started trying to figure out who the balloonist might be. I realized that some of the crew seemed familiar, a couple of them being teachers at a local school. I mentioned this to an acquaintance who seemed to remember that the husband of one of the teachers, perhaps Mrs. Galatioto, was a hot-air balloonist. That's not a very common name, so I went looking in the aircraft registration database at landings.com and, sure enough, found an Aerostar S53A registered to Santo Galatioto of Orange, CT.
A couple of evenings later, I called Santo and introduced myself and my ballooning past, offering my services as a rusty but experienced crew member. We chatted for over an hour, and he told me about the ballooning scene in Connecticut, the local balloon club (the Connecticut Lighter-Than-Air Society), his balloon, etc.).
Over the following few weeks we stayed in touch by e-mail, as we have since and then, one Thursday, he e-mailed me to ask if I'd be free to crew the following (Friday) morning when one of the other balloonists was taking a Channel 30 TV crew up and wanted some other balloons around as "eye candy."
The next day was perfect. I was surprised and delighted when Santo invited me into the basket, since I figured I'd be chasing. The flight was 45 minutes, but I was still floating 45 hours later. I probably didn't shut up the entire time, asking questions... By the time we were driving home after refueling it must have been clear to Santo that I was really into this, because he mentioned that he'd be happy to make my future flights (typically pilots take crew members for a ride every so often as a "reward" for crewing) not just rides, but flying lessons if I liked.
And I'm still floating!!
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