Generations of Flight Inspire Old West Balloon Fest Pilot at Nebraska Panhandle | national news






Justin Elkins, fourth from right with a yellow hat, and his crew pose for a photo during the Old West Balloon Fest at Mitchell Airfield on Saturday August 13.




You could say that hot air ballooning is in Justin Elkins’ blood.

Elkins, of Sheridan, Wyoming, is the third generation in his family to pilot a hot air balloon. He took love to steal from his father. His grandfather also flew balloons.

His first hot air balloon flight at the age of 7 helped fuel this passion.

“We spent the summers with my dad and we traveled all over the country – mostly the East Coast where he was selling rides, basically a barnstormer in the 80s. We would just barnstorm, go from town to town town, sell hot air balloon rides and earn enough money to get us to the next town,” he said. “We slept in the back of the truck and drove for days and days. It was pretty cool.







Generations of flight inspire Old West Balloon Fest pilot

Justin Elkins lit his “candle” for spectators during the Old West Balloon Fest at Mitchell Airfield on Saturday August 13.




During the summers, they would go to 20-25 events – maybe more, depending on the schedule.

His father also accomplished a rare feat by flying in all 50 states, Elkins said.

“We just did Alaska just a few years ago,” he said, recounting that his father was one of only two balloonists to ever fly in Hawaii when the University of Wyoming was playing in the Hawaii Bowl.







Sami Elkins mugshot.jpg

Sami Elkin




Today, Elkins’ daughter Sami has become the fourth generation in the family to take up flying hot air balloons. She remembers her first flight when she was 3 years old.

“She couldn’t see over the basket,” Justin Elkins said.

“I just grew up doing that,” Sami said. “We used to go to 10 different hot air balloon rallies a year, and it was great fun.”

She made her first flight as a pilot at 12 and her first solo flight at 14, she said. Now 20, Sami said she wasn’t nervous at all on her first solo flight.







Generations of flight inspire Old West Balloon Fest pilot

A hot air balloon hovers just above Mitchell Airfield during the US National Hot Air Balloon Championship on Saturday August 13.




“We were in Nevada, where my grandfather lives,” she said. “There’s nothing around, he lives so far away from everyone, so there’s really nothing to worry about. There are no power lines, so it’s a really good place to train.

So far, Sami Elkins has 25 flying hours as she prepares to get her FAA license. To get her license, she must pass a written test, a flight test and an oral exam.

“I just need to get more hours and practice more just to answer the written exam questions, because I don’t like tests,” she said.

Justin Elkins said flying balloons has taken him and Sami to many different places.







Generations of flight inspire Old West Balloon Fest pilot

Balloons fill the sky heading for Mitchell Airfield during the US National Hot Air Balloon Championship on Saturday August 13.




“We did ballooning in Australia a few years ago. (Ballooning) takes you all over the world,” he said. “We borrowed a ball from a friend. The hot air balloon community is tight. Everyone is pretty tight. We are like a family.

Last week, Justin Elkins took part in the Old West Balloon Fest, where Sami was part of his crew along with local volunteers.







Generations of flight inspire Old West Balloon Fest pilot

Volunteers keep an eye out for incoming balloons during the US National Hot Air Balloon Championship at Mitchell Airfield on Saturday August 13.




“We meet great people. I showed up without a crew and now I have 12 (crew),” he said, joking with the people he had met just a day or two before as if they were friends. familiar.

The Old West Balloon Fest capped off the week of festivities with a Night Glow at Five Rocks on Saturday night. The US National Hot Air Balloon Championship also wrapped up its week of competition on Saturday.