New Special Shape balloons to take flight at this year’s event

via The News-Gazette

When you go to this year’s Balloons Over Vermilion to see hot-air balloons, chances are a gigantic, green dragon and purple cyclops will be staring back at you.

Don’t be frightened.

They are only Oggy the Friendly Dragon and One Eyed Jack, who will be making their debut at the third annual balloon festival at the Vermilion Regional Airport courtesy of pilot Jack Semler, of Westfield, Ind.

They – along with Georgia pilot Mike Shrumm’s heart-shape balloon, Te aMo – are the three special-shape balloons that will be featured this year.

“People love seeing the round balloons and how beautiful they are,” said Semler, who owns Indy Hot Air with his wife, Lynn. “But when they see a special shape balloon, they’re just amazed at how huge and unique they are.”

Semler developed a passion for aviation as a youngster. That led him to pursue a degree in aeronautics/aviation/aerospace science and technology from Purdue University and into a 30-plus year career as a FedEx Express pilot and instructor/examiner.

After meeting Lynn, he arranged their first date: A balloon flight over Napa Valley.

“I fell in love with both – Lynn and ballooning,” he said.

While Semler wasted no time marrying Lynn, he put his interest in flying balloons on hold while he advanced his career and the couple raised their four kids. When his kids got older, Semler bought his first balloon. He and Lynn launched their balloon business – which provides private rides for two, tether rides, corporate promotions and balloon flight training – 11 ½ years ago.

It was on a trip to the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – the largest balloon festival in the world, which featured more than 1,000 balloons in 2000, but now limits that number to 600 a year – that the Semlers fell in love with special-shape balloons. 

“It’s overstimulating to see everything from Cinderella’s castle to dragons and scarecrows,” he said. “That’s when we knew we’d really like to get into the business. They’re more fun and family-oriented.” His business now has three.

“Oggy is my favorite one to fly,” Semler said of the smiling dragon, which is 143 feet tall and has a volume of 175,000 cubic feet.

“That was our first special shape balloon, which we bought about eight years ago. He’s one of he largest special shapes in the world.”

One Eyed Jack, which he’s had three years, stands 95 feet, or 100 if you count his mohawk, and has a volume of 120,000 cubic feet.

“He’s a fun Halloween type of balloon. And after Monster’s Inc., it just seemed like a pretty good fit,” Semler said, adding he resembles Mike Wazowski, the character voiced by Billy Crystal.

His friend, Jordan Cox, an EMT/firefighter from Westfield, will fly that balloon for the Danville event.

Semler’s other special-shape balloon is Smiley Scarecrow, which he’s had six years. 

“It’s one of our most popular balloons,” he said of the 120,000-foot tall, yellow scarecrow balloon that has flown in the Philippines and the Festival Internacional Del Globo in Leon, Mexico.

He’s also had a round balloon, called Chasing Dreams.

The envelope features colorful gemstones on a black background and looks like a kaleidoscope on the inside. Semler said flying special shapes are more challenging because they need more lift, a larger landing space and larger crew, among other things. But they’re also more fun.

“You fly these when you want to stop traffic,” he said. “People will stop in the middle of the interstate to take a picture or a selfie. Each year, we do a test/training flight with all of our balloons. We’ll post on our Facebook page when we’re going to do this, and we’ll have 200 people who will come out and watch.”

Although he’s flown his balloons all over the U.S. and internationally, Semler said he and his family are looking forward to bringing them to Danville.

“We know some of the local pilots – Dave and Kathy Reineke, Larry Owen, Dean Carlton,” he said. “We fly with them at different events all summer. Now we’ll have the opportunity to fly with them in their hometown.

“We go to a lot of small communities … where you wouldn’t normally go if you weren’t flying,” Semler continued. “They open their doors and hearts to us. You see how wonderful they are and unique they are. You see how wonderful the people are and the pride they have in their town. They want to show their town off to us, and we always walk away with lasting memories.”

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