Show-Me Balloon Club members share a unique passion

Saturday, December 8, 2012 | 4:46 p.m. CST; updated 10:11 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 8, 2012
Ben Humphreys, 15, fires up his balloon early in the morning on Nov. 4 at Discovery Parkway in Columbia. Humphreys is the youngest pilot in the Show-Me Balloon Club, founded in January 2011.

COLUMBIA — Marianne Jay has been afraid of heights since she was 12.

“I can’t even get on my roof at home,” she said. “But I will go up in a hot air balloon any day.”

Marianne Jay, her husband, Kenny, 15 to 17 balloon pilots and 40 crew members are all members of the Show-Me Balloon Club, a mid-Missouri group of balloon enthusiasts who meet the second Sunday of every month to dine and fly. Kenny Jay, Layne Wolters and Adam Magee formed the club almost two years ago.

Though the group calls themselves a club, Marianne Jay, who is the club's coordinator, said it is more like a gathering of friends coming together to share their passion for ballooning.

"We decided to do a more laid-back, relaxed kind of club," she said. "There’s no rules, there’s no dues; all you have to do to be a member is let us know you want to be involved.”

Along with the monthly flights, the Show-Me Balloon Club comes together the Saturday after Halloween for its annual "Pumpkin Drop" flight, in which the pilots set off into the air with pumpkins and release them over their small target — a pond.

Though this year's Pumpkin Drop on Nov. 3 was canceled because of bad weather, the club still came together for dinner, and a few dedicated pilots woke up when the wind died down the next day for an early morning flight 14 hours later.

Fun, games and flying pumpkins aside, ballooning requires pilots and crew members to know what they’re doing. Balloonists must go through training and licensing before being certified as a private or commercial pilot. It can quickly become an expensive hobby.

“Balloons are like cars,” Marianne Jay said. “It depends on how big, how new, how fancy that you want. Kenny and I bought our balloon used for $6,000 two years ago, but you could buy a brand new envelope for $30,000.”

After the learning curve that comes with one's entry into the world of ballooning, Marianne Jay thinks everyone should get a chance to experience what she and members of the club get to every month.

“If you’ve never ridden in a balloon, you’ve never experienced something wonderful,” Marianne Jay said. “If you’re interested in flying, give us a call, come out, eat dinner with us and get to know the pilots. Who knows where that could lead?”

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