Maranda at Work: Hot air balloonist

Maranda at Work: Hot air balloonist

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) -July is usually the time of year when hot air balloons grace the skies in Shreveport. But lots of air and hard work goes into making sure these balloons find their way up.

There aren’t too many hot air balloonists in Northwest Louisiana, but if you ask around, you might hear of Pat Harwell.

Pat has won competitions, broken world records and has even flown astronauts over the last 28 years. But his love for flying actually began through his wife Susan.

“She went on a trip with the guy that had the balloon and his family and it was incredible and she came back and talked about it for about three days..and never shut up so on the fourth day I bought a balloon," he said.

Pat was Susan’s crew chief in the very beginning, but her passion soon became Pat’s. “I quit my job on my 50th birthday," he said. "Sold my business and said I’m a balloon bum.”

When Pat’s wife decided to stop flying, he continued on, with his grandson Duncan Hernandez by his side.

“As a kid I was up early with my grandparents helping them before I could reach the burner and fly the balloons," he said. "So I was just helping and enjoying what I could do.”

Duncan is only 18, but already has two pilot licenses and has flown in numerous competitions.

Duncan Hernandez and his grandfather Pat Harwell preparing their hot air balloon (source: Duncan Hernandez)
Duncan Hernandez and his grandfather Pat Harwell preparing their hot air balloon (source: Duncan Hernandez)

There’s a lot of work that goes into flying hot air balloons. Both Pat and Duncan had to go through ground school, take multiple tests and fly with an examiner before they could get their licenses.

The two also work with a team to hook and fill their balloons up with air and turn on their burners before the balloons hit the sky. Smaller balloons can cost anywhere from $30 to $40,000, while larger ones can range from $70 to $80,000.

With nearly 30 years of experience, Pat has seen many people share some of their best moments in his balloons.

“I get a lot of proposals," he said. "Lots of anniversaries. I’ve had probably two dozen weddings in the balloon with the pastor who’s generally afraid.”

But with the summer almost coming to an end, Pat and Duncan still have plenty of flying left to do.

“We got a big rivalry going on for the next couple of weeks now cause we’re going to a bunch of events to compete," he said. "We got some points to earn.”

Pat says he will continue flying for another couple of years, while Duncan plans to continue flying while double majoring in aerospace and mechanical engineering at New Mexico State University.

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