Civil Air Patrol Maj. Jessica Makin (from left), Lt. Col. Donald Underwood, Cadet Matthew Donnelly, Cadet 2nd Lt. Billy Enriquez, and Lt. Col. William Fitzpatrick gather for a photo in front of their hot air balloon basket. The group attended Waterford’s Balloonfest to share its knowledge about balloon flight. (Photo by Alex Johnson)

Civil Air Patrol pilots share their knowledge at Balloonfest

By Alex Johnson


Lt. Col. William Fitzpatrick and his team from the Civil Air Patrol came all the way from Albuquerque to operate their hot air balloon at the seventh annual Waterford Balloonfest July 21 through 23.

“Flying balloons is the most serene flying you’re ever going to be able to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “It is not just up and down, but understanding what we call micrometeorology.”

Both Fitzpatrick and another member of his team, Maj. Jessica Makin, are instructor pilots for LTA-type aircrafts, or lighter-than-air aircrafts.

Although the weekend started with poor conditions for hot air balloon flying, Makin flew the Civil Air Patrol hot air balloon, Integrity, on Saturday evening, in clear skies and peaceful weather.

Fitzpatrick talked about how he got started flying and hot air ballooning.

“Starting off at 14, I started flying gliders … for me, it’s been 17 years,” he said. “I’ve really intensively been going through this and learning about aviation.”

Joining the United States Air Force as an aircraft mechanic, Fitzpatrick dived deeper into learning about aircraft systems, taking his education to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

One of Fitzpatrick’s favorite moments in his aviation career is taking his father flying for the first time.

“My dad is an airplane transport pilot, but he is not rated to fly balloons, and it was very interesting because I grew up from six-months old flying with him… It was a culmination of accomplishing something you set out to do, family tradition being an aviator, and being able to share that with other people.”

Fitzpatrick said that members of the Civil Air Patrol come from “all diverse walks of life.” Makin is both a sixth-grade math teacher and flight instructor for hot air balloons.

“The community itself is very encompassing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It becomes a large family.”

An intern of Fitzpatrick met the team in Waterford one year, even though she was from Albuquerque herself, something that exemplifies the “encompassing feeling of the community.”

He also said his purpose in being a part of Balloonfest is to take advantage of the opportunity to share the team’s knowledge with the community.

“Taking this aspect of flying, and showing it to family, friends and the community … and show all ages, all walks of life, that this is obtainable. They can start down (this) path, and you can be a balloon pilot next year.”

“You can launch from your backyard if you’ve got the room,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s the amazing aspect of it.”