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 & 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 & 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 are 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.

Rich Hamilton

IMG_2266Rich 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.

 Tim Taylor

Tim and wife Linda began their ballooning adventure as crew for several balloons. The RainbowDreamsBerkshireBalloonexperience was so much fun that they bought their own balloon! They now own and operate Berkshire Balloon Excursions ( berkshireballoonexcursions.com ) based in Lee, Massachusetts, flying private charter champagne flights in the beautiful Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts and eastern New York. An additional favorite flying area is the Pioneer Valley around Northampton, especially when flying with other balloons. They fly at several festivals, and Tim was a member of the American Team at the 2016 Irish National Balloon Championships in county Galway, Ireland.

Scott Griswold

ScottGriswoldBalloonScott Griswold, 38 years old, is a 2nd generation balloon pilot in the Albany NY area, and he is the owner of Above All Balloon Rides.  Scott’s father, Jim Griswold, started flying balloons in 1978 in Syracuse NY.  Scott enjoys taking passengers for balloon rides throughout the summer and at festivals throughout Upstate NY.  Scott mostly enjoys telling “balloon jokes” during the flight to make passengers feel more at ease.

Tony Saxton

Tony has been involved in ballooning since he was 9 years old. Like many balloonists, hefoto1-7 started out as ground crew and eventually was trained to be a pilot. He received his commercial pilot certificate in 1993 and is normally found flying balloons in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Tony’s most memorable flight was flying through the Delaware Water Gap between Pennsylvania and New Jersey at 55 mph just 50’ above the Delaware River. Over the past 36 years, he has flown hot air balloons throughout the United States as well as Canada, France, Mexico, and New Zealand. Currently, he is building his first homebuilt balloon “Peace and Quiet” and hopes to have the balloon ready for flying in early June. Tony and his brother Scott operate Endless Mountains Hot Air Balloons and offer balloon flights in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Buck County, Pennsylvania. Tony is the current President of the Great Eastern Balloon Association which is the country’s second largest regional balloon club. This will be Tony’s first time flying PEA-NUT the Flying Elephant at the Saratoga Balloon and Craft Festival.

Dawn Chase

Dawn Chase is a commercial balloon pilot from Fleetville, PA. She started her balloon career as a child when, in 1983, her dad was offered to go for a balloon flight from Mike Fairbanks. Her dad fell in love with ballooning, got involved with his family and eventually earned his pilot’s license. Dawn grew up in ballooning and learned to fly from her dad and his close ballooning friends. She has been a pilot since 2007. Dawn received her commercial pilot license in 2011. Dawn has flown in numerous US States, Mexico, New Zealand and Canada. She looks forward to adding to that list! Some of Dawn’s most memorable flights were Dawn Patrol at Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM; flying in the Red Rocks of Gallup, NM; flying over the Bluff, Utah valley and flying over the foggy Delaware River. The thing Dawn loves most about being in a balloon is that if feels as if you are standing still while the world spins past below you.

David Longeill



I’ve been a carpenter, woodworker (cabinet maker, boat builder …), software engineer, and now a math teacher. However, I always tell people “But in real life, ’m a balloon pilot.” I’ve been that since 1981.
When I wake up in the morning I usually remember a few dreams I just had. They’re almost always amazing and fun. I’ve written a lot of them down over the years.
My wife of 41 years, Jody, and I both like to travel (to 5 continents so far), to exercise, to eat healthy food, and to make art.




Rich Hamilton

Rich Hamilton is from Poughkeepsie, NY. Rich, along with his wife, Lori, and daughtersRichHamilton, 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 Pilots 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 and say hi!


Brooke Owen

AdkBalloonFlightGrowing up in a ballooning family, Brooke is a second generation balloon pilot.  After obtaining his balloon repairman certification he turned his attention to flying and received his pilot certificate in 1994.  A few years of flying special shaped and corporate balloons around the country led him to Albuquerque NM with a full-time pilot position with Rainbow Ryders.  Living in Albuquerque, Brooke was able to acquire a significant amount of flight hours and passenger flying experience.   In 2013, wanting to be closer to family, he packed up and moved to the northeast and purchased Adirondack Balloon Flights (ADKBalloon.com), offering daily balloon tours in the Saratoga Springs/ Lake George area.   Having flown more than 3600 flight hours and over 35000 passengers in balloons, his flight experience is unmatched.  We look forward to sharing the art of ballooning with all and invite everyone to Come Fly with Us!

Kimberly Field

After trying my hand as a member of a Balloon Chase Crew, becoming the pilot of my own‫KimberlyField balloon quickly make the list as my next goal. Passing the final check-ride and holding my Commercial Pilot license in my hand was so worth the hard work involved. Sharing the joys of Ballooning continues to be a great reward. Take a flight with me…maybe you too will be inspired in your own way.

Mark Sand

MarkSandBalloonMark Sand graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in biology in 1969. After serving in the U.S. Army for 2 years, he returned to school and earned an MS degree in oceanography from Florida State University in 1974. Mark stayed on at FSU for another year as a research associate. He then went to work for the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, at Stennis Space Center, MS, where he remained until he retired from federal service in September 2004. His last posting was as the staff oceanographer to Commander, Submarine Development Squadron 12, at the Submarine Base in Groton, CT. During his tenure with the Oceanographic Office Mark spent approximately 8 years at sea on numerous naval ships and aircraft, including survey vessels, surface warships, and submarines.

Mark was introduced to ballooning by a pilot friend. Mark is the embodiment of the phrase “Your first balloon ride is free. Your second ride will cost you $25,000.” Mark purchased his balloon, “Mystical Flyer”, a Head AX-8, in June 2003, and achieved his private certificate in Albuquerque, NM that July. Mark received his commercial certificate in September 2008. In addition to local flying, Mark has flown in Albuquerque, NM, Glens Falls, NY, Simpsonville/Anderson, SC, Poughkeepsie, NY, Kingston, RI, and Northhampton, MA. Mark is a member of AOPA, the BFA, and the Connecticut Lighter than Air Society, where he is currently president.

Rick Silva

In 2007 my cousin sent up a used balloon system from Florida that started my ballooningSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES career. I have been interested in ballooning since attending The Adirondack Balloon festival in 1983. I have flown in the ADK BF, Dutchess County BF, the South County R.I. BF and Plainville CT festivals, many since 2008. I earned my PVT certificate in ABQ, NM in 2008 and Commercial in 2015 in CT. I have been a Member of Connecticut Lighter than Air Society since 2007. I retired from Pfizer Inc. in Groton, CT in 2008 after a 41-year career as a Pharmaceutical Professional.

Michele Boutin Delisle


Every year, for nine days of magic and color, the sky of the Haut-Richelieu is taken over by close to a hundred hot air balloons during the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. This Canadian event is a reference as far as balloons go, with more than 1,000,000 square feet of theme activities. It is also a must-see summer event for fans of large concerts. The 34th edition will be held from August 12th to 20th, 2017. Don’t miss the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, just 30 minutes from the border. Find us on Facebook and Instagram or visit our Website for more information.


Don LaFountainPatchesDonLaFountain

Don LaFountain (Owner/Pilot) started out crewing for other balloons and that let to his desire to pilot his own. He then went on to received his Commercial Pilot Certificate. He has flown through out New England and in 2006 Don was a member of the American Balloon Team and competed in the 36th annual Irish Ballooning Championships in Athlone, Ireland.
Firehawk can be seen flying in the Pioneer Valley and the foothills of the Birkshires of western Mass..


Jim Regan


Jim is the owner & chief pilot for CT Ballooning, LLC.  He started ballooning in 1986, earned his pilots certificate in 1991 and has flown throughout the US, as well as in Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.  Besides flying regular shape balloons, Jim is also an experienced special shape balloon pilot and is an active competition pilot with numerous top-10 finishes to his credit.  When not flying, Jim is a full-time firefighter for the city of Manchester CT.



Alain Bardballon[1]

Alain has been flying hot air balloons since 2009. He is one of the rare people in the world to have constructed his own hot air balloon from scratch. In fact, he has made 2 of them, one of them being a “Special Shape” hot air balloon in the shape of an Alien Rocket Ship. Alain has flown balloons in some far-away places in the world, including Malaysia, Taiwan and New Zealand as well as locally at many of the hot air balloon festivals in Canada and the USA. Alain will be flying the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival Balloon.

Mike Hernandez

11223619_10153240703977998_5196460798105268259_oMike Hernandez began flying balloons after taking his wife for a birthday flight in October 2006. He attained his Commercial Pilot’s Certificate in April 2010 and has flown all over the United States, Canada and Mexico. He has flown and continues to enjoy flying special shaped balloons and his wife, Ellen, and his balloon’s VELMA and ROSCOE locally in the Glens Falls, NY region. Mike and Ellen attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival each year and this year will mark their 7th event at Fiesta.
Mike has been a Pilot at the Saratoga Craft and Balloon Festival since its beginning and is again excited to take part in such an excellent event.