What is Aero Force Balloons?
Aero Force Balloons LLC specializes in hot air balloon flights and balloon maintenance.
The owner and primary
pilot is Bill Smith, a Kentucky native born in Louisville in 1952; his wife Janet is
the crew chief. Married since 1972, they work as a team flying AERO FORCE ONE.
What are the specifications on the balloon?
Their main balloon is an Aerostar Model S-57A that is emblazoned
with a patriotic red, white, and blue color scheme. Interestingly, the fabric for the
balloon was on the manufacturer's cutting table during the terrorist attack of September
11, 2001, and the finished balloon was first flown at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on
October 6 shortly after the FAA's flying restrictions were lifted. Like a phoenix rising
from the ashes, this balloon was cheered by the huge Fiesta crowd as it came to life,
symbolizing our national pride and resolve. With an internal volume of 90,000 cubic feet,
standing over 65 feet tall, and weighing 765 pounds, AERO FORCE ONE can carry a payload of
885 pounds (usually a pilot and three passengers.)
So, who pilots this balloon?
Bill was in the military for 30 years and has an extensive
background in aviation. He enlisted into the Kentucky Air National Guard, U. S. Air
Force in 1972 as a Life Support specialist. There he inspected and maintained parachutes,
restraint harnesses, oxygen equipment, survival kits, and other critical life-sustaining
equipment for aircrew flying F-4 Phantom and F-101 Voodoo fighter jets. In 1988, he
became the superintendent of the 123d Combat Control Team and supervised the 25-member
special operations unit. During that assignment, he made 246 static line and free fall
parachute jumps from a wide variety of military cargo aircraft and helicopters. In 1999,
he was appointed fire chief at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base at Louisville
International Airport. He retired in February 2003 at the rank of Chief Master Sergeant
and is now focusing full-time on ballooning. He has an FAA commercial pilot rating and
has accrued over 1000 hours in hot air balloons.
Aero Force Balloons LLC is recognized in the Louisville ballooning
community for its leadership. The company was honored in 2004 with a coveted Pinnacle
Award from the International Festival and Exhibitors Association for the "Best Educational
Program" after visiting numerous elementary schools in conjunction with the Kentucky Derby
Festival and Kentucky Underground Protection, Inc. In 2005, the Aero Force One Balloon
Team hosted a safety seminar for over 80 local balloonists. Members of the team belong
to the Balloon Society of Kentucky and Bill served as vice-president of the organization
from 2004-2009. He also has a number of top finishes in local competitive ballooning events.
Where can you find Bill?
When he's not flying, Bill can be found working on hot air balloons.
As the owner of Aero Force Balloons Repair Station, he inspects and maintains balloons as small
as a one-man "Cloud Hoppers" to mammoth 20-passenger systems.