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Profile: Marion's Kevin Kamp has been hot-air ballooning for decades

Kevin Kamp of Marion poses for a portrait Thursday next to the basket of his hot-air balloon. He has been a hot-air balloon pilot since 2002. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Kevin Kamp of Marion poses for a portrait Thursday next to the basket of his hot-air balloon. He has been a hot-air balloon pilot since 2002. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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MARION — While many people were gathering to watch fireworks shows on the Fourth of July, Kevin Kamp was just getting home following one of his most grueling weeks of the year.

Kamp is a commercial and hobbyist hot-air balloon pilot in Marion for the family-owned Balloon Travels Unlimited. He just finished participating in the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show & Balloon Festival in Michigan — a big draw for balloonists honing their competitive skills.

“I’m been coming up to Battle Creek since 2008 as a pilot. I came as crew for another balloon since the ‘80s. I’ve been a pilot since 2002,” Kamp said.

He usually flies his balloon commercially, giving rides to people in the area. But flying for leisure is very different from flying competitively.

During the day the sun heats the ground, creating thermals: rising columns of warm air that can cause unpredictable drafts. Because of thermals, dawn and dusk are the best times to fly, but that makes for brutal competition schedules.

“We get our eight hours (of sleep), but it’s in two four-hour shifts,” Kamp said.

Competition flying is about accuracy; targets are placed on the ground and pilots must drop sandbag markers as close to the targets as possible. Balloon pilots use air currents to steer into position before releasing their markers.

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“I’m just here for fun. I like to fly. If I happen to see a target and get to drop a baggie then that’s fabulous,” Kamp said.

A pilot’s crew helps get the balloon on and off the ground safely, and the crew is even more important during competitions.

“You can’t do it alone. I would say a typical crew for a balloon is a pilot and three to five ground crew. The ground crew basically does all the work,” Kamp said. The crews hook up the propane tanks and the envelope — the balloon itself — to the basket.

Kamp started crewing for pilot Susan Stamats of Buzzards Glory Balloon Company in 1986 when he met her nephew in high school.

“I crewed for probably 17 years before I had the opportunity to get my pilot’s license,” Kamp said.

Kamp earned his private pilot’s license in 2002, and received his commercial license in 2003. In 2003 he began giving rides through a company he and his family own in Marion, Balloon Travels Unlimited.

Several years later, Kamp met pilot Matt Bousselot and passed his knowledge along.

“I’ve always had an interest in aviation and I moved into this neighborhood and met Kevin,” Bousselot said. “He was looking to train a pilot to help him out with his business, so he became my instructor.”

Bousselot was drawn to ballooning because it was something he could do with his family that would allow him to connect with his community.

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He got his pilot’s license in 2012 and earned his commercial license in 2013. He now flies as a pilot for Balloon Travels Unlimited and Buzzards Glory Balloon Company.

Bousselot has participated as a pilot at Battle Creek since 2015. He also has flown at the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship competition in Shreveport-Bossier, La., since 2016. He also attends a festival in Seymour, Wis., every year.

Kamp said the best part of ballooning is sharing it with others.

“My favorite part about ballooning is when you take somebody up who has never been up before and you see the excitement in their face. They’re experiencing something truly unique, and you sort of get to relive your own first balloon ride,” Kamp said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

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