Balloon Club Presidents, Poptalk Editors and Number of
||Frank Chiovelli - first POPTALK
||Mary Lou Marino
||Marilyn Francis, Maureen Kates , Cassie Strumecki
||Maureen Kates, Sue Cooling, Ed Cooke
||Ed Cooke, Sue Cooling,
John Phillips, Orlean Moran
||Dwight Wells & Krysia Jarmicka
||Elaine Lee/John Cornelius
10 Years Ago.... It Seems Like Yesterday!
I was surprised the other day when Gail Brown called me to ask for a few remarks on the
Edmonton Balloon Clubs 10th Anniversary. It was hard to believe a decade of ballooning in
Edmonton had already passed! Perhaps I should share with you some of the events of the
early days. The present club members may not recognize some of the names but they all have
contributed to the successful club you have today.
In 1973 the Calgary Balloon Club had just ordered its first balloon when I was
transferred to Edmonton. I had been looking forward to ballooning and we had held meetings
in Calgary for a solid year with no balloon. So upon setting up residence in
Edmonton there was only one thing to do start up another club and get a balloon!
I put an ad in the Journal and rounded up a group of about 15 people who met in the
basement of a school. Charlie and Gwen Littlewood I believe were at the very first
meeting. The club got off to a quick start. First the Alberta Free Balloonist Society
allowed the EBC to operate under its legal charter until the club could arrange its own.
And second we already had a balloon in Edmonton.
Sandy MacTaggart was instrumental in getting the club off the ground. In 1965 he had
purchased a Piccard balloon. In those days you almost had to learn to fly by yourself, so
Sandy had some early mishaps and adventures. The manufacturers were not of much additional
help because we were all learning just what you could and couldnt do in a hot-air
balloon. Anyway by 1973 it was some time since Sandy had last flown. But the EBC persuaded
him to drag out the balloon and see if it could still fly. We went to Sandys
beautiful residence and tethered the balloon in the backyard. A few weeks later after
being satisfied the equipment was fully airworthy, Sandy made a free flight in the country
with the support of the eager EBC ground crew. His control was superb and he touched down
by a road. There must have been a line of 30 cars chasing the balloon, only a few of which
were true chase crew. Some claimed the balloon had crashed, others though it was a UFO!
Due to personal commitments Sandy realized he would not have enough time to train the
pilots the club would need to grow and fly. So he did an extraordinary thing. He sold POP
to the club. The club did not have much money so he loaned the club the money to buy his
balloon! Furthermore he funded the training of two pilots. Dale Lang was brought up from
Calgary and started training Del Michaud and Charlie Littlewood. As the EBCs first
President, I was naturally in line for training but you guessed it
. I was
transferred back to Calgary after spending over a year and a half getting the EBC going!
So I missed Out again..., but not for long.
Some of us look back at the early 70's and now consider them to be the "golden
days" of ballooning. The reaction of the public was tremendous. Almost every flight
would bring a great number of cars to chase the balloon. People would drop everything and
run after us! Farmer and landowner reactions were ones of awe and terrific excitement at
being privileged to have a balloon land at their place
even in the crop.
Of course it was not all roses! The equipment we had was generally unacceptable by
today's standards. Burner output was marginal and we used "sudden death"
deflation systems. Oddly enough the 1965 Piccard was perhaps the most advanced balloon
even in 1973. But we had our problems with it too. A lot of time was spent by
inventor-genius Doug Rygalo attempting to cure the problems of getting the deflation
system to deflate when it was supposed to! An how many pilots flew POP and had their
helmets set on fire when they opened up the burner bypass too much? Yes we had some novel
experiences! I soloed in POP and had the round top of my helmet melted flat!
In the years since 1973 the EBC has grown into one of the best ballooning organizations
in North America. It would not have been possible without the contribution of its members
over the years. Ballooning as a club has a lot of rewards
. and a bit of frustration
(as when any group of people gets together to accomplish something). The EBC
members have done a lot! And there is more to be done. There now is wide public interest
in ballooning and a whole new generation of pilots to be trained and educated in safety
and courtesy in ballooning. And a club is one of the best places to do it. Congratulations
on the progress made in the last 10 years, lets see what the EBC can do by the 20th
EBC President 1973
The First Year of the Edmonton Balloon Club
by Mary Lou Marino
"To see the world from the top
With the freedom of the wind"
This motto announced the first meeting of the Edmonton Branch of the Alberta
FreeBalloonist Society on August 22, 1973. Brian Hval, who had been instrumental in
establishing the AFBS a year earlier in Calgary, transferred to Edmonton and soon rallied
Edmonton members into forming their own organization. The August 22nd meeting held in the
downtown Public Library, was a promotional one, featuring a film on the World Championship
held in New Mexico and Larry Horack (then pilot of the "Export A" balloon)
describing his "adventures as a professional hot-air balloonist". A discussion
session followed covering such topics as membership, buying a balloon, and the Export A
Although there is no record of how many people, or who, attended this meeting, there
was enough interest that another meeting was scheduled for September 20, the "first
official" meeting of the Edmonton Balloon Club, which was chaired by Brian Hval.
Eighteen people attended this meeting, including Charlie, Gwen and Jeff Littlewood. They
discussed arrangements for the Club to use Sandy MacTaggarts Piccard AX5 and
also watched films of the Export A Race.
First Balloon Race in Edmonton
The first documented balloon race in Edmonton was the "Great (?) Export A Balloon
Race". According to AFBS records, MacDonald Tobacco decided to sponsor two balloon
races in Alberta during 1973: for one day, September 1, in Calgary and one day, September
2, in Edmonton. It seems that ten balloons were scheduled to launch from Mayfair Park
(these were pre-Hawrelak times), and pleas were made at the first meeting of the fledgling
EBC to provide crew for these aerostats. The only fact we know about the "A
Race" is that it was won by one Mark Duffus, a pilot from Peterborough, Ontario. Mark
not only "volunteered many helpful hints about balloon operations" during the
race, but also later corresponded with Club officials about winter operations (e.g.,
preheating cylinders before flight) and about the possibility of selling his balloon to
the Club. Otherwise, recorded details of this event are sketchy, but include references
- "how a chase truck lost its balloon!"
- "the ground crew member who was bounced out of his truck!"
- "organized confusion at Mayfair Park!"
- "the blonde on 104 Street who did not (...censored...) or his truck! (Egads!)"
- "how we got indigestion on our invisible breakfast!"
- "Ed Yost, inventor of the modern hotair balloon, and what he says about
- "debauchment of Society members at the MacDonald Hotel and other matters best left
Do these "insights" from Edmontons first race evoke similar
experiences at more recent events, e.g., the Nationals or Colorfast? Can anyone, such as
Charlie or Brian, fill in any details? Should we have a Club contest to "complete
this story", especially the one about the blonde on 4th Street?
First Club Balloon
In another article in this edition, Charlie Littlewood has provided background on POP,
the Clubs first balloon. Sandy MacTaggart made his offer to the Club in a letter
dated September 7, 1973:
"I happen to be the owner of what is essentially a Piccard, Model AXS.
although at the time when it was brought into Canada some years ago, it had to be imported
in pieces and put together by me. It is therefore registered as a homebuilt balloon,
and as such is subject to a restriction on passenger carrying for a further nine hours of
flight. It is, however, an excellent balloon, capable of carrying three people. Very
little has to be done to it other than a complete checkover and reregistration.
If your group is interested I would be prepared to enter into arrangements to permit
the club to utilize it after the necessary hours of flying have been put on to enable
passengers to be carried.
I would hate to see Calgary establish a commanding lead over Edmonton in this important
sport and would be glad to hear from you if you are interested."
The club had access to this balloon thereafter, using it for tethers, crew and pilot
training, and free flights. A year and a half later, in May 1975, Sandy "sold"
POP to the Club.
Activities of Members During the First Year
Charter members of the Club, those attending the first official meeting included (in
addition to the Littlewoods):
||Shirley Walker, Acting Secretary
In subsequent months they were joined by:
||Jean De La Bruyere
||Teruo Kabota (from Ft. McMurray)
Where are these people now?
As would be expected, some members were more "involved" than others. For
Malcolm Baster, an air traffic controller at the Industrial Airport (also
preMunicipal days) talked about proposed air regulations for Manned Free Balloon
Operations. One concern expressed about the proposed regulations was the requirement that
persons flying in a balloon must wear safety belts or safety harnesses. The Club
subsequently wrote to the MOT that members felt that seat belts would be more of a hazard
than a help in balloon operations. Malcolm was elected to the post of President in March,
Brian Hval, who as President of the Club for the first year, was kept busy with
negotiations with the MOT, e.g., about selection of launch sites and the proposed air
regulations. Also, Brian was actively engaged during those early months in rewriting the
Bylaws of the Society in order to disassociate it from the AFBS. By March of 1974, the
Club had become a free-standing Society, no longer directly affiliated with the
Charlie Littlewood spent considerable time preparing the fuel tanks for winter
flying. This included painting and insulating the tanks and assembling a manifold system
for fuel supply in POP. Charlie was also noted for his design of a storage rack and
preheater for the tanks: "The preheat method using light bulbs effectively raises the
cylinder temperature about 60 degrees above that of the surrounding air . . . just ideal
for winter ballooning." The system Charlie devised was later adopted by the Calgary
Club. During the first year Charlie served as Treasurer for the Club and was involved in
many discussions about membership fees and fund-raising to buy a balloon.
Doug Rygalo, who volunteered the use of VHF radio equipment for communication
between balloon and chase crew, also gave a talk to Club members about "equipment
available for effective ground to air communication." Doug was one of the first
pilots to take his training on Club equipment.
Trevor Hager served, with Malcolm Baster on the first Balloon Selection
Committee. This Committee was formed after Larry Horack offered to sell his Raven 550 A
balloon to the Club and to train a pilot as well. Although the Club did not have the funds
to purchase this balloon at the time, the Committee was delegated the responsibility of
looking into the possibilities and to get information on other balloons that might be
suitable for the Club.
We can see that this first year was not unlike more recent years, with concerns about
maintenance and equipment, negotiations with MOT, air regs, training, balloon selection,
and of course funding.
First Pilot Training
Although the Club had access to POP, which Sandy MacTaggart alleged was capable of
carrying three people, experience had shown that POP was not adequate for pilot training.
Throughout the 1973-74 winter, various options were explored to bring a pilot and balloon
to Edmonton to provide the. required training. These included a fellow from Flint,
Michigan, Larry Horack with his Raven, and Mark Duffus (the A Race winner) from Ontario.
The Club finally arranged a one-week summer training camp. Two student pilots, Charlie
Littlewood and Del Michaud, underwent training with Dale Lang in his Semco balloon. The
camp was held at Ukrainia Park, near Mundare, 46 miles east of the City. The agreement
with Dale provided that he would receive $1200 for training the two pilots. The two
students agreed further to supply propane, tent, trailer, meals and ground crew.
Brian Hval has speculated that a pilots first flight is often the worst he ever
experiences, but for some reason that does not deter such pilots from continuing with the
sport. As an example of this phenomenon, Brian recalls Charlies first training
flight in the Semco. Charlie and Del had successfully launched the balloon from the field
near Mundare and headed out in a westerly direction, flying over a few stands of trees
here and there. Soon, however, they realized that they were heading back in the same
direction from which they had come. They also realized that the wind speed had picked up
considerably -- gusting to 30 miles per hour. Their landing back at their launch site was,
of course, a hard one, with the Semcos aluminum frame basket tipping over
completely. With such a force of impact, not only Charlie but also Dale found themselves
rolling out of the basket. As they picked themselves out of the dirt, they looked up to
see the Semco ascending several hundred feet and flying off in that fine breeze. The
land-bound pilots had to chase it for about a quarter mile before it sank to the ground
and could be retrieved. For Charlie, this was an unforgettable flight, but not a deterrent
to further adventures. He and Del both managed to complete their training and are still
wishing us all "soft landings."
by Mary Lou Marino
Edmonton Balloon Club History
by Charlie Littlewood (1979)
A history of the Edmonton Balloon Club would not be complete without something on
ballooning activities before the club was formed. Ballooning in Alberta really started in
1967, Canada's Centennial Year. As part of the centennial celebrations, a flight of
several gas balloons was made from the city of Calgary. At the same time, a few
enthusiasts in Calgary decided to form a club to promote the ballooning sport in Alberta:
they called it the Alberta Free Balloonist Society.
In 1973 Brian Hval, President of the Alberta Free Balloonist Society, formed a northern
branch of the society. The first meeting was held in the theater of the city Library in
August of that year. The MacDonald cigarette company sponsored a balloon race in Mayfair
Part with eleven balloons at about the same time. The interest generated by this balloon
race provided an instant membership for the new club.
In 1975 or 1976 the northern branch of the Alberta Free Balloonist Society disbanded
and the Edmonton Balloon Club took its place. The main reason for this separation was a
reluctance of the Calgary members of the Alberta Free Balloonist Society to participate in
possible financial losses of the Edmonton Group.
The first balloon in the Edmonton Balloon Club was an AX-5 Piccard, loaded by Sandy
Mactaggart. This balloon is interesting because it was one of the first balloons in
Canada. Sandy first flew it in 1968. It was often flown by club members in the Fort
Saskatchewan area in 1974. In the spring of 1976 the club obtained a second balloon, an
AX-7 Cameron which was bought from Stan Wereschuk. Most of the flying now is done with
this Cameron Balloon, which is named Albatross.
A continuing problem in the club has been the shortage of pilots. When the Edmonton
members first met in 1973 there was only one pilot, Sandy Mactaggart. In the summer of the
next year, a training camp was organized with the intention of training two more pilots -
Del Michaud and Charlie Littlewood. We (including Gwen and Doug Rygalo) camped in apart at
Mundare, east of Elk Island Park and flew whenever the weather allowed it. We hired Dale
Lang, a professional pilot from Calgary, to bring his balloon and train us. As is usual
with ballooning, the weather limited the training time and at the end of two weeks only
one pilot was trained, Del Michaud. After the camp Charlie continued to train under Del
and became a pilot about a year later.
The club has participated in annual competitions which were held for the western
provinces and this year became a national competition. The 1977 competition was in Red
Deer. The first night flight in Canada in a balloon was made during this competition. ON
the evening of July 23rd, the air was calm and the weather was settled. Stan
Wereschuk went from a pizza house to bar telling everyone near him that this was the time
to make a night balloon flight. Early the next morning about a dozen cars followed him to
the Red Deer College campus and aided by many auto headlamps, Stan proceeded to get the
Albatross balloon ready on the campus lawn. Some special equipment for this flight was
instrument lighting, and a rotating red beacon under the gondola. At 3:05 AM the balloon
was ready; ground helpers released their grip on the gondola and the balloon lifted up
into the darkness. After this, all that could be seen was the rotating red beacon and the
occasional flare from the burner. Stan flew at about 1000 feet altitude with a light
north-east wind. After nearly three hours he came down near the Red Lodge Provincial Part
- a flight of about 30 miles. By this time it was daylight and a safe landing could be
A good part of the current activities of the club is the training of pilots. The club
now has three student pilots. To raise funds, the club sells rides and makes promotional
flights for shopping centers, sports events, etc.