Pennsylvania man wins Holiday Balloon Fest Trace Christenson The Enquirer
Sometimes Jeff Barlett drives and sometimes he flies during hot air balloon competition.
Last year Barlett was crew chief for his wife, Sandy, who was the pilot. This year, the roles were reversed and Sandy was crew chief and Jeff was the pilot.
On Sunday, Jeff Barlett, 44, of Sharpsville, Pa., was announced as the winner of the 2007 Holiday Balloon Fest.
He finished ahead of Pat Brouillet of Kankakee, Ill., last year's winner. In third place was Scott McClinton of Prospect, Ky., while Chase Donner of Fisherville, Ky., was fourth and Alan Blount of Palos Park, Ill., fifth.
Barlett scored the highest on Saturday's only flight of the weekend, a four-part task in some changing winter winds.
"It was pretty fun," Barlett said after the awards ceremony, held at the Heritage Dome in downtown Battle Creek. "We had a box wind so we climbed back up and made a second pass. It's rare when you can do that."
Lower level winds Saturday morning were from the southeast, and Event Director Derrick Jones placed targets at Kellogg Community College and then two more further west.
Pilots said they could climb to 6,000 feet and find winds that took them back to the east so they could drop back down and make a second pass, attempting to fly closer to the targets.
Barlett said he flew for more than an hour and the second pass paid off.
An engineer and a pilot for 12 years, he said he was trained by his wife who has flown more than 20.
He crewed for her last year so this Holiday Balloon Fest is the first time he has flown in Battle Creek.
He also is a fixed wing aircraft pilot and said, "I just like being up in the air, flying balloons or airplanes."
But he had an added satisfaction because in 2000 the couple built their balloon, named Aida, themselves.
"We were competing against some pretty good pilots and were flying something built in our garage," he said.
The Holiday Balloon Fest is not the first championship for Jeff Barlett.
In 2006 he won the team championship at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival Balloon Classic Invitational in Canton, Ohio, with teammates Paul Petrehn of Howell and Joe Zvada of Wadsworth, Ohio.
"He is a very good pilot," Petrehn said Sunday. "We just can't get him out to fly enough."
Barlett said the difficulty is finding a crew so both he and his wife can fly at the same time, something they want to do more frequently.
"We take turns but we both enjoy the competition," he said.
Although weather forced cancellation of four of five scheduled flights, Jones said the event remains a success. Crowds of people gathered at the college both Friday and Saturday night for scheduled balloon glows, concerts and children's activities even though winds prevented the pilots from inflating their envelopes.
"Despite the challenging weather, I think the people enjoyed it," Jones said.
"I was shocked (Saturday) night that we had a decent turnout in the wind and snow and freezing rain.
"I think it shows there is a passion to enjoy and see the balloons," he said. "They wanted to see a glow. They come out and they look forward to it."
Jones said planning for the 10th annual event has begun, scheduled for Dec. 5 through 7, 2008.
Trace Christenson can be reached at 966-0685 or firstname.lastname@example.org