Below is a look at what Hot Air Balloons will be launching off through-out Mmorial Day weekend:

“The Ugliest Duckling”

Pilot:  Bill Lavigna


Bill is the originator and organizer of the Blossom Time Balloon Festival.  This year, Captain Billy will fly the ‘Ugliest Duckling’.  The design is a variation on the ‘Ugly Duckling’ theme.  Bill became interested in ballooning in 1985 and was licensed in 1986.  In 1987, he helped organize the local effort for the Great Balloon Lift for Farmers and received the 1988 NOBPA President’s Award for his work.  Bill enjoys competitive ballooning events, having participated in 10 US Nationals, finishing 16th a number of years ago.  He has also participated in all 4 of the US Team Championships in Battle Creek, Michigan, with a 2nd place finish in 1997, and has crewed for 2 world championships.  Bill’s most memorable ballooning event was the 1988 Trans-Australian Challenge — an 18-day event that spanned the continent from Perth to Sydney.  At a recent safety seminar, noted safety aeronaut, Dr. Dennis Helmuth, singled out Bill as a role model to other balloonists for his innovative landing techniques. 


Pilot: Bill Cloninger

Balloon: Scrappy



A pilot since 1990, Bill has over 1700 hours as Pilot in Command.  In February of 2001, Bill headed up the NightStar Project that set three new Aviation World Records for an AX5 category hot air balloon.  He personally flew NightStar I, which set a new Duration of flight World Record of 12 hours 21 minutes and 36 seconds.  This 12-hour flight under a full moon, Bill describes as ‘the most beautiful and enchanting flight’ he has ever flown.  Bill was awarded the BFA Director’s award in 1997 for his efforts in promoting safety and education to the balloon pilot community.  He is a two-term past president of the Northeast Ohio Balloon Pilots Association and has chaired several standing committees of the BFA.  In 1995, Bill was the NOBPA Club Competition Champion.  As a flight instructor, Bill teaches several student pilots each year.  During 2011, Bill become the FAA Hot Air Balloon Designated Pilot Examiner for this area.

This year he will be glowing “Scrappy” and flying his other balloon, “Hialeah”, which has pink flamingos on a teal backgound.


“Sky Berry”

Pilot: Chris DiMichele  

Chris is no stranger to hot air ballooning.  Ever since he was a toddler, Chris has been a balloon enthusiast.  As soon as he was old enough, he started his pilot training under the instruction of Bill Cloninger.  In August of 2003, Chris passed his flight exam and received his hot air balloon pilot license.  He then purchased his first balloon, Sky Berry, in 2005.

Chris has been nick named “Captain Berry” for being the captain of a flying strawberry. His crew members also have their own berry themed names. Even though Chris flies a giant strawberry he is actually allergic to them. Did you know the average strawberry has 200 seeds? How many seeds can you count on Sky Berry? 


“Free Spirit III”

Pilot:  Eugene Kenyo

Welcome Gene back to the Blossom Time Balloon Festival.  He got his start in ballooning in 1991 when he began crewing for local pilots, Terry Wasson & Craig Lucas.  He began lessons and received his private pilot license in 2001. His crew consists of his wife Lauren, daughters Kate and Brooke, and friends Tim White, Jane Gundlach, and Mark Shaw. 


“Diamond Girl”

Pilot:  Ken Kus 


Ken is a local pilot who has logged over 400 hours as Pilot in Command.  He was the 2000 NOBPA Rookie of the Year and won the NOBPA Club Championship in 2003 & 2008, helped by a win here in 2008.  He also enjoyed participating in the BFA Longjump Competition in 2003 & 2004, flying at altitudes up to 12,500 ft and covering 188 miles in 4 hours.  Ken is self-employed and works as a service contractor in the northern Ohio area.




Pilot:  Craig Lucas

Craig and his wife Peggy are back for another year at the Blossom Time Festival.  This year Craig is in charge of the event.  He won here in 2007.  He has competed at rallies in Ashland, Ohio, Meadville, Pa., Canton, Ohio and Statesville, NC.  Craig is a past-president of the Northeast Ohio Balloon Pilot’s Association. Craig feels it is a great honor to compete and to have won on his own turf in Chagrin Falls.  Several years ago, during our sponsor flight, Craig enjoyed landing in his own neighborhood.  Having a rally in his hometown gives him the opportunity to share the experience with many friends in the area.  He and his crew are always active participants in the parade.  It is a tradition that makes Chagrin Falls stand out among the other balloon rallies they attend. He especially enjoys flights that take him over downtown Chagrin.  The view is breathtaking and the sound of the falls can really be heard even way up in the balloon.   His goal this year is to fly safe, have fun, and be as competitive as possible.  


“Free Spirit V”

Pilot: Eric Wasson

Eric’s first trip to the hot air balloon nationals was at the age of 10 months, when he rode in a cardboard box with his 10 month old cousin in the back of a VW bus.  Unfortunately, you won’t see the VW bus at Blossom Time, as some time later, Paula Wasson, Eric’s mom, inadvertently set it on fire.

As you can guess, Eric comes from a ballooning family.  His father, Terry, was a pilot, and he taught Paula and Eric, as well as Paula’s brother Chris and friends Craig Lucas and Eugene Kenyo how to fly.  Terry and Paula were very involved with the Blossom Time Balloon Festival.

Eric continues to keep it all in the family, since his wife, Sneha, is the crew chief and his sister Deidre, her husband Brian, and their kids, Jack, Peter, and Drew will be crewing.  This year he brings his new racing balloon to the event.


Slow Drip

Pilot: Shanon Donnelly

A transplant to Northeast Ohio in 2007 from Southern Indiana, he has been around balloons all his life.  Upon finishing his 60k homebuilt and after a few flights, he was quite happy with it.  In building his balloon he hoped to minimize the unknowns by following in the footsteps of tested products even if he didn’t reproduce them exactly.

He is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Akron in the Department of Geography and Planning.



Pilot: Ken Myers

Ken’s interest in balloons began in 1979.  Not knowing that morning flight meant sunrise, he went to a balloon rally, arriving at 9:30 to find all the balloons already had gone.  Since then, he has accumulated over 30 years ballooning experience and is a commercial pilot for RE/MAX Realty.  He has won several balloon competitions and has flown in Kenya, Africa with Bob Zanella.  He crewed for Mike Emich’s Hydrogen Gas Balloon launch in 1985 and the Earthwinds attempt in 1992.  He has also flown in Mexico and in several events around Ohio.  Ken has taught high school science, worked for Goodyear Aerospace for 25 years, and retired in 1991.  He is now self-employed as ‘Job Jar Man’, doing handyman work of all kinds and flying hot air balloons.  He and his wife Dian are welcomed back to Chagrin again this year. 


Heaven’s Rainbow

Pilot: Denny Welser


Like many balloon pilots, Denny became hooked on ballooning while taking his first balloon flight in 1982.  His wife knew he was going to buy a balloon because he was asking the pilot so many questions.  He has been flying balloons ever since and loving every minute in the air.  He became a balloon pilot in 1983 and has flown in rallies throughout the US, Mexico and Canada.  During the past 20 years, he has had the opportunity to make many friends in this wonderful sport of ballooning.  He is currently president of Heaven Bound Ascensions, a hot air balloon ride company, providing passenger rides in beautiful Northeast Ohio.  Because ballooning has been part of his career for the last 20 years he can truly say that he loves his job.  In the sport of ballooning he has had the opportunity to promote ballooning in various organizations including the Balloon Federation of America, NABA and the Northeast Ohio Balloon Pilot Association, of which he is honored to be a past president.  He has had the opportunity to participate in many challenging ballooning events across the country as pilot and sometimes as a race official.  He has won many balloon rallies and challenges over the years but his most cherished reward in ballooning has been the wonderful people he has encountered along the way.