By Amelia Anderson
Mike Beck, owner of Calm Sky Adventures, will speak about his experiences flying hot air balloons on Thursday, November 17, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.
When it comes to aviation, Mike, EAA 812414, is a self-proclaimed “total aviation nerd.” Earning his pilot certificate in 2002 and building his Sonex shortly after, Mike also holds a commercial lighter-than-air certificate. “I’ve flown a long time in a lot of different types of aircraft,” Mike said. “From Cessnas to Sonex to doing aerobatics to helicopters…But man, there is just nothing like ballooning.”
Mike’s love of hot air balloons started when he was trying to think of the perfect wedding anniversary gift for his wife.
“One night I was out in my Sonex…and I was trying to think of a cool anniversary present for my wife because it was our 17th wedding anniversary on June 17 of 2017.” Beck said. “So I’m like, ‘I’ve got to do something cool for this, you know, because 17s all in a row like that.’ It had to be something big.”
Little did Mike know how big his ultimate decision to celebrate their anniversary with a hot air balloon ride would be! To his surprise, his wife Brenda also fell in love with the experience, even though a ride in Mike’s Sonex is not her idea of a good time. “She hates flying in airplanes…I was going to tell the pilot, ‘Well, if she freaks out, we’ll just land and we can drop her off in the field and have the crew pick her up and you and I will keep flying.’” Mike said. “We were driving home and my wife said to me, ‘You know, we should buy one of those.’ And she should know better than to tell me to buy something aviation-related like that.”
Mike and Brenda started Calm Sky Adventures LLC in 2017 at first to offset the cost of owning a hot air balloon, but the business eventually grew into a labor of love to share ballooning with the world.
“My favorite passenger flight would be…a couple who the church body that they went to had bought a gift certificate from us…So normally when we’re flying, I take a selfie of myself and the passengers…so I said, ‘If you guys could turn around, I’ll grab a picture.’ And the lady turned around and she was just bawling. And I thought maybe something was wrong…And I asked her what was wrong and she’s like, ‘No, no, no, everything’s all right. I’m just, I’m just so overwhelmed with the beauty.’ And she proceeded to tell me the story of how her son had recently passed away, and the reason her church gave them this gift certificate was so that they could see what he sees from heaven… I just started bawling…The customers we have, the experiences, learning their stories is just what really makes it that much deeper on a personal level.”
In addition to his amazing passenger stories, Mike was also eager to point out that it takes more than just a pilot to get a hot air balloon off the ground.
“Ballooning is really tough to do solo…we have a number of people that help crew for us, that help us set up, chase us, help us tear down. Also I always have to give a shout out to our land owners who let us use their properties to take off and land on.” Mike says more often than not, seeing a hot air balloon land on their property brings out a childlike wonder in people. “The experience is just like nothing I’ve ever experienced in aviation. That’s what makes it so magical.”
Those attending Mike’s talk on the 17th can expect to learn a little history, how the mechanics of a hot air balloon work, and some personal stories from Mike accompanied by a slideshow of breathtaking views from his hot air balloon. Beck is also bringing the basket of his hot air balloon, so attendees can get a better understanding of what the experience is like without lifting 1,000 feet off the ground.
Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youths 5 and under, and just $5 for nonmembers.