PILOT NAME:  Pete Asp
HOMETOWN: Sullivan, WI
BALLOON NAME:  PH One

Born 1948 in Milwaukee, WI. I’m a lifelong Wisconsinite, currently living in Sullivan.

I worked in steel fabricating after high school and an apprenticeship, ending up as a manufacturing engineer after about ten years.

After becoming interested in ballooning through several co-workers, I purchased my first balloon with a partner and earned my Commercial LTA certificate in 1979. After establishing a passenger flight business and moving on to full time ballooning in 1982, I added a hot air balloon Repair Station and earned my Repairman certificate in 1984.

  • added a Private Airplane Single Engine Land rating in 1986.

  • obtained a Supplemental Type Certificate and Parts Manufacturing Approval for a balloon refueling adapter in 1989.

  • asked by the Milwaukee FAA office to become a Designated Pilot Examiner in 1990 and continue serving the ballooning community in that capacity.

  • developed the “QUIK-RELEASE” in 1991. I continue to build those today and you will find pilots all over the country using them.

  • built my Experimental balloon, N81826, in 1995 and still use it for fun flying.

I turned the passenger flight business over to a worthy successor after last season, but continue the repair station, student training and a few more balloon rallies.


PILOT NAME:  Bill Buchar
HOMETOWN:  Shorewood, IL
BALLOON NAME:  Cloud Dancer

Bill Buchar is from Shorewood, Illinois and is a professional airline pilot. He started flying gliders when he was 14 years old and now has over 11,000 total flying hours.

Bill started flying balloons 5 years ago and holds a commercial lighter-than-air certificate.

Bill says he and his family are very excited about once again being part of the Harvard Balloon fest.


PILOT NAME: Tim Cloyd
HOMETOWN: Runnels, IA
BALLOON NAME: Glorious Drifter

My name is Tim Cloyd and I am from Runnells, Iowa. I have been flying since 2007 and have flown over 800 hours. I fly in many events per year and the greatest thing about ballooning is the joy that I can bring to so many people. The experience is truly priceless. I also fly an annual cancer flight I call “Extreme Flight to Find a Cure” It is a flight that will reach altitudes as high as 17,000 feet and fly from 100 to 400 miles. The general public can honor someone they know who has dealt with cancer on the flight. Visit my website at www.tecvisions.org and click on the Charity Flight page for more information.


PILOT NAME: Steve Derebey
HOMETOWN: Roscoe, IL
BALLOON NAME: Got the Hotz

Steve Derebey found his love for ballooning in 1981.  Since then he has flown all over the world and taught hundreds of new pilots how to fly.  Steve recently retired last year after a 42-year career as a Captain for United Airlines flying the Boeing 777.


PILOT NAME: Mike England

Began flying balloons in 1979 in Charleston, IL.

Still have 1979 Avian ax6 balloon . Moved to Arizona in 1994 and began flying balloons commercially. Now flying balloons as large as 450,000 cu ft, carrying as many as 20 passengers.

Looking forward to coming back to northern Illinois.  In 1969 I became the the first 4-H youth adviser in Boone County. Lived just west of north Boone high school. Have a lot of fond memories of northern Illinois


PILOT NAME: Chris Keefe
HOMETOWN: Cross Plains, WI
BALLOON NAME: Nifty Gadget

Nifty Gadget is a 2004 Lindstrand 90A hot air balloon based in Cross Plains, WI. The multi colored and white stripe balloon was acquired by its owner and pilot, Chris Keefe, in 2012.Chris Keefe has been involved with hot air ballooning for over four decades. Chris is a commercial pilot having experience with balloons that range in size from around 30,000 to over 200,000 cu. ft. in volume, both standard round and special shape. Chris has participated in ballooning events throughout the midwest as well as many other areas of the US and Canada. Whether flying for fun, participating in rallies, instructing new student pilots, or doing commercial operations, Chris enjoys sharing this fascinating sport with everyone.


PILOT NAME: Adam Magee
HOMETOWN: Swisher, IA
BALLOON NAME: Gordo

Adam has been a balloon pilot for 11 years.

“I am very fortunate in that my mom became a pilot when I was around 5 years old. I grew up ballooning and from day one I always wanted to fly. I took my first flight when I was 6 years old. I remember that my mom was flying at an event in Creston, IA and it was supposed to be a nice, calm day for me to fly. As we were in flight the winds picked up and as my mom approached a large hayfield for landing she had me sit at the bottom of the basket. I remember sitting down on the floor of the basket with my bike helmet on as my mom executed a high wind, drag out landing. Our chase crew (my dad and some friends) were there when we landed and they always say that once the balloon stopped dragging and all the air was out, I just popped out of the basket and didn’t stop talking! That same passion for ballooning is still with me today as I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about ballooning yet.”

My wife and I also founded The Balloon Training Academy, a non-profit organization that hopes to increase the number of pilots in the sport of ballooning as well as increase safety by providing continuing education for pilots. We currently have an online training academy which provides the knowledge necessary to pass the FAA Knowledge Test for hot air balloons, which is one of the requirements to earn your pilot certificate to fly a balloon. When we aren’t flying, the Academy takes up a majority of our time. (www.theballoontrainingacademy.com)

Ballooning has given me the opportunity to fly in so many awesome places across the USA and around the World. Some interesting places I have flown in the USA have been in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the base of the Grand Tetons, and flying from the shoreline of the Gulf into Johnson Space Center in Houston. My most memorable flight was launching in the parking lot of Busch Stadium and flying right alongside the St. Louis Arch. I have an incredible photo taken from a helicopter of me flying over the Mississippi River with the Arch and downtown St. Louis behind me. My most interesting experience in ballooning would be when I flew for Team USA for the first time at the Jr. World Championships in Lithuania in 2012. I went overseas by myself and borrowed equipment from a Lithuanian pilot who I had never met before and only emailed. Looking back on the whole situation it was interesting to go over there with nothing and not being able to speak the language and hope everything worked out with equipment, vehicle, crew, etc. It all worked out and it speaks to how great the ballooning community is even on an international level. The pilot who I borrowed the equipment from and had only emailed has become a great friend and even came to the USA to attend my wife and I’s wedding.”


PILOT NAME: Jim Neill
HOMETOWN: Riverwoods, IL
BALLOON NAME: Stellar

Jim has been flying since 1975, with his most memorable flights in the World Championships in Montreal, a major event in Saga, Japan, and a second place finish at the 2002 National Hot Air Balloon Team Championships. Through the years he has flown in Canada, and won many events in the U.S., including winning the 1988 Kodak 3 City Tour Championship.

His most satisfying achievement is his training of son Kelly and daughter Kim, both who are now balloon pilots and fly their own balloons. His biggest supporter is Eileen, his wife, who has faithfully and more than competently followed his every flight…except those in which she was a passenger. He and son Kelly helped build their current aerostats, PengWind and Stellar.

Jim and Eileen live in and fly throughout Lake County.


PILOT NAME: Don Raciborski
HOMETOWN: Harvard, IL
BALLOON NAME: Sam’s Deal

Don is a 2nd generation pilot and a Harvard resident since 2002. His wife and crew chief Kim were married in 1986 and he started crewing for his father-in-law and other area pilots in the late 1980’s. He began as a student pilot in 1998, and earned his Private pilot license in 2003 and Commercial pilot license in 2006.


PILOT NAME: John Rucker
HOMETOWN: Genoa City, WI
BALLOON NAME: Not Yet Named, Too

John became interested in ballooning in 2006 and decided he wanted to become a pilot.

He received his Private License in 2010 and his commercial license in August of 2016. He is happily married to his Crew Chief Denise and they enjoy geocaching and attending local balloon rallies.


PILOT NAME: Bennett Schwontkowski
HOMETOWN: Cary, IL
BALLOON NAME: REMAX

Bennett went for his first hot air balloon flight in June, 1974 and was licensed in 1977. Being the youngest pilot at that time in Illinois, he has since then performed over 3,100 flights and operations and flown over 12,500 passengers. Bennett operates the only corporate balloon promotion agency in the Chicago area, providing clients with decades of experience in hot and cold air balloon operations.

Flying the RE/MAX hot air balloon in northern Illinois has allowed him to experience many opportunities from Lake Michigan to Iowa, from flights over cities including Chicago to small town community festivals.

The RE/MAX balloon team is proud to participate at the third Annual Harvard Balloon Fest.


PILOT NAME: Ken Walter
HOMETOWN: Waukesha, WI
BALLOON NAME: Kay’s Wind Dancer II


PILOT NAME: Rodney Williams
HOMETOWN: Branson, MO
BALLOON NAME:  Ford

Rodney Williams has been flying balloons for over 27 years.  He has owned and operated a hot air balloon ride business in Branson, Missouri since 2004.  Since January 2017 Rodney has been the primary pilot for the Ford Balloon traveling mainly on weekends to balloon festivals, as well as other events for local Ford dealerships across the US.  We are looking forward to returning to Harvard, IL Labor Day weekend.


PILOT NAME: Jim Winder
HOMETOWN: Bristol, WI
BALLOON NAME: Pure Magic


PILOT NAME: Dennis Wolfe
HOMETOWN: Tampa, FL
BALLOON NAME: ZULU

Dennis has been a hot air balloon pilot since 2001. He was introduced to the sport as a young man crewing for a Rockford, IL pilot for many years in the early 80’s. He currently lives and flies his Cameron Z-90 in Tampa Florida.
When Dennis is not flying he is an advertising professional working as a Creative Director for a large ad agency.