Neal Blackwell started his ballooning career 30 years ago by simply going for a balloon ride with former coworker, Dave Spais. Dave, at that time, was working for a company named Sky Works which flew from Hopewell Twp., NJ. Dave had his private license and needed people to fly with him to log time for his commercial license. After some major convincing, Dave talked Neal’s brother, another friend and Neal to go for a ride and pay for the propane. They flew from Twin Pines south into the city of Trenton and landed in the middle of a soccer game. The kids had as much fun as they did. From then, Dave talked Neal into crewing – at least that is what they called it. Neal called it working for no pay. After crewing for a few years Neal then earned his private pilot license in 1981 and his commercial rating a short time thereafter.
Since then he has flown countless flights; trained several other pilots; met his wife who was a student pilot in 1989, and developed deep friendships with other pilots and crew. His current student is a 17 year old boy who has been chasing, flying and crewing with them since he was 6 years old. His 14 year old sister will probably be his next student.
Last fall, Neal and his wife, along with another balloon pilot and his family, went to Albuquerque for Balloon Fiesta. Since Neal and his wife met ballooning and went to Fiesta for their honeymoon it was only fitting that they went back to celebrate their 20th anniversary. It was the first trip to Fiesta for Ben Hanbicki and his family and they added to their adventure by driving the balloon cross-country for the event. The entire group got to fly and experience the magic of seeing over 500 balloons in the air at once.
Neal and his wife, in addition to participating in several regional balloon events in New Jersey, Maryland and Canada, have also had the wonderful adventure of flying over the Alps in Switzerland and Austria a couple of years ago. The opportunities of ballooning are just as endless as the sky!