The Moore American

January 30, 2013

Going up, up and away

By Jocelyn Pedersen
The Moore American

MOORE — Balloon business brings high-flying adventure to Moore

Every week, a brightly colored balloon, hot air and a very large basket come together to produce high-flying adventure when a local pilot takes residents from Moore and the Oklahoma City metro into the sky.

Darrel Duer Jr., owner of OKC Balloons Aloft, takes up to seven passengers in a shared basket for balloon rides about twice a week. Duer says he usually takes to the skies in the early morning just after sunrise or in the late afternoon a couple of hours before sunset, when winds and weather patterns are most conducive.

“It all depends, because each day the winds are different. Usually we fly when winds are about 10 mph or less,” Duer said. “We need the winds to be 10 mph or less to be able to take off safely. We can always land once we get in the air. It’s just a matter of getting the balloon inflated safely.”

Duer and his passengers usually take off in populated areas either along the Interstate 240 corridor near Walker and fly south over Oklahoma City and Moore, or they take off from north Oklahoma City close to downtown and head north. No matter where they start, they head for wide-open spaces to land.

Duer is in constant radio contact with his ground crew, who follow the balloon to wherever it lands usually about 45 to 60 minutes later. The entire experience, from orientation to packing up, takes about two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours.

Duer said he took his first balloon ride when he was five years old in 1977. His father, Darrel Duer Sr., brought the first balloon into Oklahoma City back then, a big yellow balloon advertising Duer Real Estate.

Balloons come in several varieties, ranging from commercial to sport, and can cost from $20,000 to $60,000. Duer said the cost of his balloon “is up there in price because it has bells and whistles.” The baskets are made of rattan and wicker over a metal structure. Heavy-duty aircraft cables run through the wicker and underneath.

Riding in a wicker basket 1,000 feet above ground may sound a little unsettling, but Duer assured that it’s safe. Not just anyone can take passengers up in a balloon. Operators must has commercial pilot’s licenses.

He said balloons have to be inspected annually or after every 100 hours of use. Any necessary repairs must be made by an FAA certified aircraft mechanic. For example, Duer said if he lost a bolt, he couldn’t run to the hardware and replace it. He’d have to take the craft to a certified technician who could only install an approved bolt. Even the specialty balloon fabric has to undergo annual strength testing.

His passengers must feel confident because Duer said they often book with him to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or some other special occasion. Some try to target a specific date, but with higher-than-normal winds in Oklahoma City being common, sometimes patience is in order.

“Sometimes we can meet those (target dates) and sometimes we can’t,” he said. “We have to try to target that date, but fly the first available date afterward. Usually I can take them within a few days … it’s a wind thing.”

For more information on ballooning with Duer, visit okcballoonsaloft.com or visit OKC Balloons Aloft on Facebook. Call 698-2900 for pricing and to schedule a ride.