OUR PILOTS AND CREW
James Lawson, Owner and Pilot
James Lawson was born and raised in Encinitas, California and is proud to say that his company is family owned and operated and has been in business since 1994. He is an experienced pilot that has been flying all types of aircraft since he was 16 years old. He has flown hot air balloons in Mallorca Spain, Hawaii and Albuquerque, New Mexico. He got his inspiration one night to fly hot air balloons when he noticed one fly over him in the city of Encinitas. He then got his pilot certificate and later became an instructor for student pilots that are looking to obtain their pilot’s certification. In addition, he is one of 24 pilots in the nation that is allowed to fly passengers in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. “It's not the flying I love so much, its changing the way people think for a moment while they are up in the air." He also enjoys taking the handicap and the blind up. "When they sometimes feel they cannot do it, we make it happen."
Ferrel Gray, Pilot
Ferrel took his first balloon ride Dec. 7, 1983 and was hooked. By Jan. 1985 he had his commercial balloon license and was flying rides on the weekends. By 1990 he had quit his job driving for UPS and took up ballooning full time. In 32 years as a commercial balloon pilot he has accumulated over 10,000 hours of hot air balloon flight time. Ferrel has flown hot air balloons all over the world and has flown many celebrities along the way. Places like the Napa Valley, The Serengeti, Tanzania, Valley of the Kings, Egypt, Taiwan, The Alps & Dolomite in Italy and the beautiful Del Mar coast line, just to name a few. And some of the celebrities Ferrel has flown are, Will Smith, Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Silvester Stallone, Michael Jackson, Carrie Otis, Mickey Rouke, Lenny Kravitz, Kathy Lee Grifford, Katie Couric and many more. But what Ferrel enjoys the most is sharing his love and enthusiasm for ballooning with everyone that he flies. You will have an amazing time whether it is your first flight or tenth flight.
Jeff Gilles, Pilot
Matt Downin, Pilot
Growing up in upstate New York, Matt learned about ballooning at a young age. Family friends owned a balloon that he often helped chase, sparking an interest in ballooning that's still going strong today. After moving to California to attend college, Matt began working for local balloon companies, putting to work the skills he'd learned growing up. After finishing college to become a middle school math teacher, he also pursed his commercial pilot's license to continue being around balloons. To this day he enjoys every balloon ride as much as his first at age 10.
Balloon Ground Crew
We could go on and on about our chase crew, Nick and Eric.
In addition to being our crew manager for our Solvang-Santa Barbara wine country flights, Nick is also well versed with his knowledge of wine making in the Santa Ynez Valley and has worked many harvests so he knows this area from ground to glass.
Eric has been with us for over 15 years and is a vital part of assisting our pilots with flights and making sure all of our passengers have a great experience.
From our beautiful locations we fly, Del Mar, Temecula and Santa Barbara to the largest balloon fiesta in Albuquerque, they both just can't get enough of the chase.