November 15, 2009: Edwards Celebrates Winners With Balloon Ride

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  • Air Force Flight Test Center

A group from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Edwards Air Force Base and the local community gathered at the base for a different type of “first flight” – in hot air balloons. The event was hosted by the Air Force Flight Test Center commander, Maj Gen David Eichhorn, in an effort to recognize the base’s annual award winners and civic leaders who help to take care of the base and its mission. Lifting off the Rosamond Dry Lakebed, the balloons carried some eight award winners, who soared thousands of feet above the base. The unusual event was coordinated through a number of agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration.

Edwards Air Force Base is world renowned for its first flights, but on November 15, a group of individuals from Albuquerque, N.M., Edwards Air Force Base, and surrounding communities gathered early on a cold, bright morning in order to experience a different type of aviation.  Before the sun rose, the winds were measured, and the caravan made its way to Rosamond Dry Lakebed. With the unfurling of vivid materials, lit fires, and hoisted baskets, the preparation for the first hot-air balloon flight from an Edwards' lakebed began.  Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, Air Force Flight Test Center commander, hosted the event in order to recognize individuals.  "I wanted to do something to reward the people who help take care of the base and the mission; our annual award winners and our civic leaders. I wanted to see them get a balloon ride, so I called some friends in Albuquerque and around Southern California," said General Eichhorn.

In order to accomplish his goal, the event was coordinated through a number of agencies, to include the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the hot-air ballooning flights were well worth the effort because of the motivation and feelings of good will. Those in attendance were treated to a new perspective as they soared thousands of feet above Edwards.  "I was the AFFTC Honor Guard Member of the Year, so, as a result, I got chosen to take a flight," said Staff Sergeant Terreil Reed, 412th Logistics Test Squadron avionics sensors craftsman.  "It made me feel pretty good. It was really fun and it is nice to get recognized for doing something that you like. I like doing Honor Guard a lot, and this was a nice reward. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I couldn't let the moment pass me by once I got the invitation. I was really fortunate and grateful," Sergeant Reed said.  The balloon pilots and crews supporting the event also enjoyed themselves.  "We flew about eight award winners this morning and they all seemed to have a good time, but we had more fun than they did" said Clarke O'Bryne, a hot-air balloon pilot from Albuquerque.  Edwards' unique terrain and assets played a large role in the ability to perform the hot-air balloon rides and the pilots' enjoyment of the event.  "What a wonderful place to be, with the lakebeds and everything being wide open space. It's a wonderful place to fly balloons. It was great, just super. Most of the time we are flying in mountains and we fly in mountain valleys. To have such a wide open space, with the chase truck right beside you, is just amazing. It was really quite a change and a lot of fun" said Mr. O'Byrne.

In addition to rewarding individuals for their contributions to the base and providing new terrain for the hot-air balloon pilots, the event provided a unique opportunity to another member of Team Edwards.  Tech. Sgt. Michael Rickman, 95th Security Forces Squadron Physical Security noncommissioned officer in charge, re-enlisted in flight.  "It actually came to me on a whim. I was looking at my re-enlistment paperwork, filling everything out, and at the same time RSVP'ing on the balloon ride. I just thought 'hey, why not just do it in the balloon, in the air,' so I went and asked my supervisor and we asked protocol and we pressed forward. I went up and did it, re-enlisted in the balloon, a few thousand feet in the air. It was fun," said Sergeant Rickman.  From recognitions to a re-enlistment, the hot-air ballooning event proved to be memorable.  "This is very special. Flying award winners and people who have been deployed ... coming out here and doing that is very special. I spent 25 years in the Air Force myself, and coming back and being able to give a little of it back to the military community is something that I think is so worthwhile and fun" said Bill Armstrong, a local hot-air balloon pilot who supported the event.  As the event drew to a close, General Eichhorn reflected on the hot-air ballooning opportunities that the members in attendance were able to receive. He described hot-air ballooning as a social event that requires all of the essential elements of aviation. The coordination and focus needed for the event relied upon working with people, making things happen, and making everything and everyone come together in order to accomplish their task.

"Some really great folks supported the event and we were able to reward some really great folks from the base and the local communities. It was a tremendous event that I'm looking forward to doing again," said General Eichhorn.  .Edwards Air Force Base is known for its prominence in aviation history. The assets of the installation enable a flight test mission that supports the Air Force in a unique way. As a result, Edwards is always prepared to go "Ad Inexplorata," or toward the unexplored, which is the AFFTC motto. Hot-air ballooning is not a typical aviation feat performed at Edwards, but Edwards always stands ready to do something different.  "We do different things from the rest of the Air Force every day. From flying the F-22, the F-35, the B-1, B-2, and B-52, and doing the X-51 Waverider, we do different things very well every day. Giving people the experience of putting together a different kind of event, though this is slow speed compared to what we normally do, is exactly what we do really well. I'm grateful for the opportunity to put something on to give people the chance to see something different and to experience hot air balloon flying" said General Eichhorn.

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