October 01, 2022

In the pilot’s seat

Former Mayflower student shows balloon basket to kids Friday

While bad weather forced the hot air balloons to stay grounded this weekend, Tammy Dillinger’s Mayflower Heritage Christian School’s first and second-grade students learned all about what makes hot air balloons fly.

They spent the week leading up to the festivities learning all about the balloons. On Monday, they started making paper-mâché hot air balloons.

The students then had a science lesson about how warm air rises. To inflate a balloon, the envelope (the balloon) is stretched out on the ground and attached to the basket and burner, all of which are laying on their side.A small gasoline-powered fan blows air into the balloon. Then the burner is turned on, and the air in the envelope is heated. Hot air rises, lifting the balloon upright. Modern hot air balloons heat the air by burning propane, the same substance commonly used in outdoor cooking grills.

Retired librarian Sue Teutsch visited Dillinger’s students to read the kids a book on hot air balloons and how they work.

On Friday, Theo Hartman, a former Mayflower student, came to the school to show students the basket and burner for his hot air balloon.

Hartman attended Mayflower from fifth to eighth-grade. He went on to Creston High School where he graduated in 2013. After that, he attended Iowa State University to study meteorology and is still attending Iowa State to get his master’s degree.

Hartman showed Dillinger’s students the basket and explained the material is made of wicker. The wicker is sturdy yet flexible and allows for a cushioned landing.

Students squealed as Hartman fired up the burner, sending a blast of flames into the air. He showed the kids the difference procedures he uses to ignite the burner depending on what’s below him.

If he sees a herd of animals below, he uses a quieter method to avoid spooking the animals. This was new information to even Dillinger.

The students got a hands-on opportunity to get into the basket and see what it’s like to be a hot air balloon pilot. They saw the GPS and got a chance to use the radio to say hello.

They also learned how ballooning competitions work, even here in Creston. Competitors attempt to drop a marker close to a goal selected and declared before flight. The winner is whoever lands their marker closest to the nearest goal without the basket touching the ground.

Hartman showed the students the markers and explained they’re made of the same stretchy, durable material as the balloon itself. The kids chose a spot on the ground and took turns tossing their marker to the point.

Hartman stayed through the afternoon to give the other classes the same chance to learn about hot air balloons. He is only a few flight hours away from having his balloon pilot license.

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.