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Up, up and away

Duluth’s Steve Johnson gets help from fellow balloon pilot Glen Perry and crew chief and chaser James Johnson as they prepare ‘the piano balloon’ to take off from Veterans Park in Cloquet on May 9. Scott Blatchford/Pine Journal

Cloquet residents driving by Veterans Park Tuesday, May 9, were surprised to see a large hot air balloon fill up and take off from the newly renovated park.

The hot air balloon is owned and piloted by Duluth's Steve Johnson. On May 9, he was in Cloquet to get his bi-annual flight credentials renewed, along with friend and fellow pilot Glen Terry. Johnson has been flying balloons since 1991 and light aircraft since 1968. He explained hot air balloons are generally flown in cooler weather to get high enough, so in the warmer summer months he flies alone.

The balloon is decorated with a piano-and-keys design in a nod to Johnson's day job as a piano player and tuner. It is considered a racing balloon as it is small at 50 feet high by 49 feet wide and 54,000 cubic feet.

"This one is the Cadillac of balloons," Johnson said, adding the balloon can hold a pilot and two passengers maximum.

His brother, James, is Johnson's crew chief and drives the chase crew truck. Johnson said they decided to fly from Veterans Park because of the clear land and the wind was out of the west. The balloon traveled about five miles per hour to Esko where they landed. Steve has been landing in Esko for years due to the many open fields of farmland and lack of power lines to get tangled in. For more information, visit