Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Martin Hill: ‘I like taking people flying’

Martin Hill gets ready to launch his balloon during the Old West Balloon Fest at Mitchell on Saturday morning.

Martin Hill of Centennial, Colorado, has been around aviation for a long time. He particularly enjoys piloting balloons.

The balloon that Hill flew this past weekend in the Old West Balloon Fest was named C3H8, which he says is “the chemical nomenclature for propane. That is what we burn. All these other guys [who pilot balloons] have real cute names like Baby’s Breath in Spring. There’s only one balloon here that matches its name, and that is Big Top because it has a combination of posters from Carson and Barnes Circus. I flew in that balloon here two years ago.”

Hill said he’s been flying balloons since 1985. He got his airplane pilot license in 1967.

“I haven’t hurt anybody yet,” he said.

Hill explained how he got involved in aviation.

“I couldn’t afford the boat I wanted,” he said, laughing. “Actually, when I was a little kid, Central Airlines, which eventually merged with somebody else and became Frontier Airlines, was giving familiarization rides because people didn’t fly on airlines much in the 1950s.”

Hill will never forget the first time he got to fly.

“I got to sit in the front seat of a DC-3 and fly over Denver at night,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I have to learn how to do this.’ I promised Mrs. Applebaum, who was my Sunday school teacher, that I would get a pilot’s license and give her a ride. I kept that promise.”

Hill made the switch to piloting balloons because “it is very, very basic.”

He added, “It is a social event as much as it is a flying event. You can take people in a balloon when they wouldn’t have the nerve to get into an airplane. I like taking people flying.”

It takes a lot of energy to move a balloon, Hill said.

“This balloon carries 30 gallons of propane,” he said. “I teach students to try to land with at least one third of their propane left. We will burn probably 20 gallons in a given flight. You can’t make it move, and if you have to stay up in the air to avoid a hazard, you need extra propane left over.”

Hill flies frequently.

“I go up at least once a week in the summer,” he said. “If we’re not flying this balloon, I have a contract with RE/MAX. I’m the pilot for the RE/MAX balloon. Some weekends I have the opportunity to fly both, and that’s real fun.”

Each flight is a different length, according to Hill.

“How long you can stay up depends on the weight you are carrying and the temperature,” he said. “If you’re going to Aspen, and they say it’s 78 degrees, we’re weight limited, and if you’re carrying three people, someone has to get off. We can have the same situation here. It has to do with how much oxygen you can get out of the atmosphere.”

Hill said he has had some memorable moments flying balloons, but he added, “I try to avoid memorable as much as possible. The only horrifying thing that ever happened to me was when I had someone descend on top of my balloon during a national competition. It was a lot scarier to live through than it actually was in practice.”

Hill said that setting up a balloon is a physical activity.

“The basket weighs about 250 pounds, and with the fuel onboard, it’s more than that,” he said. “The balloon weighs about 150 pounds. The volunteers come out and help us with this.”

Hill said he has no plans to quit piloting balloons anytime soon.

“It’s a fun hobby, and it gives you something to talk about when the weather is bad,” he said. “I am a commercial pilot. I have done some airplane commercial flying. If you have seen guys towing banners around stadiums and stuff, I have done that. I was in Wray, Colorado, flying a banner for someone who graduated from high school. Her dad was a crop duster pilot, and he told me I was crazy. He said he would never do that. We are well-trained, but it makes you think.”

Hill doesn’t just fly balloons for his own pleasure. He’s a licensed balloon instructor. He enjoys teaching others how to pilot a balloon.

“You’ve got to be able to make it go up and down,” he said. “It is like any other pilot license. There is a written test that you have to take and pass, and then there is a practical test that you have to do with a representative of the government to prove that you can conduct the flight. It is not extremely difficult.”

Hill said balloon pilots enjoys lots of freedom in the air.

“There are rules of the road for aviation and you have to follow those. You don’t want to run into any other aircraft,” he said. “If you are flying outside of the big airports in the United States, you do not have to be in contact with the government. We have the privilege to fly almost anywhere. There are few places on the map that you can’t — like where the president is, and we’re restricted around stadiums. But the rules that we live by are very few. We are free to go almost anywhere and do almost anything in an aircraft. It is still a free country in the air.”

Rick Patterson of Firestone, Colorado, is a ground crew chief and was with Hill during the Old West Balloon Fest.

“I met Hill in 1984; we wore his balloon out,” he said. “I got to a point in my life where it was not safe for me to fly, so I gave my balloon to Hill. I have been working with Hill and helping him out when he flies the balloon. His balloon is over 30 years old, but they last a long time if you take good care of it and if you have a good repair station for when you don’t take very good care of it.”

Patterson said Hill’s flight during the Old West Balloon Fest went well.

“They only took out 10 corn stalks when he landed,” he said.

Hill said he plans to participate in the Old West Balloon Fest again next year.

Original article can be found here ➤

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