Pilot Info

The Saratoga Balloon & Craft Festival will have over 20 pilots launching their balloons!

See below for Pilot bios and photos!


Joel & David Berka

Joel Berka & David Berka are a father & son hot air balloon team. They are F.A.A. certified commercial pilots.  Dave has been flying since 1979. He has trained many pilots including his son Joel. Together they attend many balloon festivals in the United States and Canada. The sport of ballooning has provided them the opportunity to meet countless wonderful people and enjoy many unforgettable experiences. They are returning pilots to the Saratoga balloon festival.

Fall RM

Carroll From “REMax of NY”

Carroll started his aviation career flying (airplanes) for the US Navy during the Vietnam era. Then he became an airplane flight instructor with a “sideline” of ballooning. But since 1978 he has been a full-time balloonist. He flies about 1 flights a year, has taught Balloon Pilot Ground School classes during the winter, gives assembly programs about ballooning to over 100 schools each year, and is Chief Pilot for RE/MAX of New York and for REMAX of New Jersey. (REMAX is a real estate company whose logo is their balloon). Carroll has earned the BFA President’s Award for Education in recognition of his influence on the balloon world in the areas of education and safety.

David Kramer
Hot Air Ballooning has been a growing interest for Windrifter pilot David Kramer and his crew chief wife Elaine since their first experience with balloons at the 1985 Adirondack Balloon Festival. They became completely hooked on the sport after joining one of the 400 balloon chase crews at the 1986 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Since David became a pilot in 1993, he and Elaine have flSTJEANcountryown commercial flights and in many festivals throughout the Northeast, and other areas like Albuquerque, NM and St. Jean, Canada. David is a commercial pilot and instructor for hot air balloon pilots. He and Elaine operate the Windrifter Ballooning company and can be contacted at www.windrifterballooning.com. Although most flights are in the southern Saratoga area, Windrifter may be seen flying in many portions of Schenectady, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington Counties. Windrifter and crew also like to share the joys of hot air ballooning with others, and occasionally enjoy demonstrations and presentations at local schools and charities.

Dar Farzad

Dar Farzad has been involved with hot air balloons essentially his entire life. The hot airDar - pilot balloon bug started for him around age 3 when his mother brought him to a local hot air balloon event in his hometown of Binghamton, NY. This continued year after year until Dar got old enough to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot himself. At the age of 19 Dar got his pilot license and hasn’t looked back since. He has thousands of hours of commercial ballooning experience with flights all over the United States and Canada. Dar loves to fly and also loves sharing his passion/love of hot air ballooning with all his guests that he flies. Safety is always his top concern and with thousands of hours logged in balloons and attendance at numerous F.A.A. sanctioned safety seminars you can be assured that you have one of the safest pilots around providing you with an exceptional hot air balloon tour.

Dwight E. Cramer


Always looking to the sky, Dwight experienced his first hot air balloon ride in 1992.  He served as crew for a few years prior to purchasing a balloon system and taking flight lessons.  He earned his commercial license in 1999 and started his own company, Airborne Adventures Ballooning, Inc.  He has since logged over 1600 hours in balloons, and loves sharing the magic of balloon flight over his hometown of Munnsville, NY, and throughout the northeast at various festivals.



 Eric Nickerson

Eric has been active in ballooning since 1980, crewing until 1999 and in 2000 bought his Iphone Pictures 001first rig and earned his private and commercial certificate. Eric is grateful to his team (Bob, Steve and Marie) that support him year round at sunrise. They are the ones who make it happen, without them I can’t fly. Liberty flights is based out of the Milford-Amherst NH area, enjoying the scenic souhegan valley.
Flame II follows the design of Flamboyant and was designed to simulate the propane flame which provides the heat to allow us to float, with the valve showing the water vapor and sparkles from the burner.
We are all very happy to be in Saratoga and flying at the Saratoga Balloon & Craft Festival.


IMG_2266Rich Hamilton

Rich Hamilton is from Poughkeepsie, NY. Rich, along with his wife, Lori, and daughters, Sarah and Brittany, have been involved in ballooning ever since Rich purchased a balloon ride for Lori’s birthday many, many years ago. Since then, the family has attended festivals around the country and crewed for anyone that needed help, making great friends in the process. Rich now holds a Commercial Pilot’s license and operates Adventure with Altitude
Ballooning LLC and flies in the Poughkeepsie, NY area. The entire family has been bitten by the balloon bug and they all participate when it is time to fly. Stop by & say hi!

Richard Buckles

After taking a balloon flight in 1983 and crewing for several years, our first balloon, SKMBT_C65214123108530Typnady, arrived in 1987. Ballooning became a family activity with my wife, Nancy and our three sons Zane, Ian and Kyle all becoming crew chiefs. Fortunately family and many friends supported our love for ballooning which enabled us to fly throughout the states of New York and Pennsylvania and into Ontario Canada. Our balloon fleet grew over the years to include a one-made balloon built by Dave Steven, Bucklesup, and a 70,000 cubic Firefly, Rising Star. We have also added to the pilot list, our youngest son Kyle has his private certificate and is now working on his commercial rating.Our family is excited to attend the Saratoga Balloon Festival and look forward to meeting residents and spectators.

Michael Ranieri

Mike is a commercial hot air balloon pilot and also holds a FAA Repairman’s Certificate working under Hudson Valley Balloon Port owned and operated by his good friend Russ Barber. Mike has been flying since 1999 and operates Catskill Mountain Balloon Inc. with flights out of Columbia County airport in Hudson, NY as well as Oneonta, Cooperstown and many festivals throughout the year. He has flown throughout New York State, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Canada and Japan.  Mike takes every opportunity that Mother Nature allows to fly with the rising and setting of the sun.