Story by Maeve Kenny Reilly ‘84
I’ve been a wild rover for many’s a year/and I spent all my money on whiskey and beer,” starts an Irish song about a penitent drinker. But the Wild Rover is all about air, hot air, in fact. Mike Boylan ’69 pilots the Wild Rover, a hot air balloon.
Boylan, a systems analyst at Keystone Corporation in Bartonville, earned his professional pilot’s license in 1984. About eight years later he met another pilot who was a balloonist and offered to show Boylan the ropes, so to speak. He was hooked.
“I tell people this is a good social event,” says Boylan. “I need a crew of four or five people to get the balloon up and going, and I always need good weather. Of course, it can also be a bad social event—I might have four or five people waiting around for good weather. Or have good weather and not enough people for a crew.”
Boylan competes in balloon events throughout the Midwest and has traveled as far as Albuquerque, New Mexico, for competitions. Most of the precision events focus on flying the balloon from one location to a designated spot where a marker is dropped on a large “X.” Boylan believes success is a combination of skill and luck. Most of his luck depends on which way the wind is blowing, literally.
“It’s a lot like golf,” he says. “Flying is like driving the ball, but hitting the mark is fine-tuning your putt. Often the lucky shot wins the tournament.”
The Wild Rover is Boylan’s third balloon. One is “retired” and used for spare ballooning material, and the other smaller balloon is used for long-distance events. One such event sponsored by the Balloon Federation of America calls for competitors to see how far they can fly on a 40-gallon propane gas tank during the “off” season – October through April. Boylan placed first in his division in 2001 with a distance of 138 miles. He has obviously come a long way from Dr. John Kenny’s physics class where he built a model hot air balloon using a candle and a dry cleaning bag.
“I like the challenge of a successful flight,” says Boylan. “It seems simple and carefree to be flying in a balloon, but really you have to be able to predict winds and weather, and you need the right skills to get the balloon going where you want it to go.
“When the weather’s nice, if I’m not flying, I’m in a bad mood,” says Boylan. “I like the uniqueness of ballooning and sharing the experience with people.”
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