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Airborne in empire head's castle

It was the early 1980s when I took flying lessons from Tom Barrow of Billings to become an FAA-rated commercial pilot for lighter-than-air free balloons, limited to hot-air balloons with airborne heaters.

After flying at various hot-air balloon rallies from Billings to Grand Forks, N.D., among balloons with envelope sizes varying from 20,000 to 80,000 cubic feet, it was at a large event in Riverton, Wyo., that I found the biggest balloon of all, an estimated 250,000-cubic-foot envelope in the shape of a fit-for-a-king-and-queen castle, complete with gun turrets, moat crossing bridge, and barred windows.

The behemoth shape was fabricated in rip-stop nylon, of course, but to a nice realistic scale.

The main-man pilot was directing the scene, with the help of his head pilot, including the cold inflation, hot air inflation, erection and perusing the check list before launch. I joined the throng around the basket as the envelope repositioned from a limp fabric lying on the ground to a live, rippling, erect balloon.

As the pilot entered the basket, I recognized him as the Event Balloonmeister, Malcolm Forbes, the erstwhile head of the Forbes Empire, buyer of Faberge Eggs and Harley Davidson world rider, utilizing the gambit of Capitalist Tools to spread the American Way around the rest of the world.

When Forbes announced that he needed a little more weight in the balloon to balance off the lithe weight of Ms. Wyoming, say another 130 pounds or so, I leaped over the basket edge announcing, "I'm just what you need".

Forbes grinned at my prompt and maybe bold move, said, "Welcome aboard," and made me comfortable along with the other passengers.

After a short airborne time, we landed and talked, and I got a treasured signature in my pilot log book from Mr. Forbes, an American Capitalist.

- Elmer Kuball

Sheridan, Wyo.