Some would say Bryan Hill, general manager of Page Electric, has his head in the clouds. The Page businessman, son of Tom and Charlene Hill of Kanab, is an experienced hot air balloon pilot.

The fact that Hill recently won the prestigious 39th Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in early October with his hot air balloon ‘Basketcase,’ demonstrates he’s among the best in the world. The internationally-recognized event draws crowds of nearly 800,000 visitors to the New Mexico city during the week of the balloon fiesta.

And that’s not just a lot of hot air! There were 500 balloons participating in this year’s contest, with over 60% in the precision competition that Hill won.

Hill explained that upon the beginning of the event, special-shaped balloons are launched over the appointed competition grounds. These are novelty balloons, with pilots there primarily for the sheer enjoyment of the event. They stay up for a certain time period to get a bird’s eye view, and show off their aircrafts to an appreciative public.

Then the serious competition begins!

Precision ballooning is a point total event that occurs during the competition. Balloons involved in this event are launched approximately a mile away. The object is, by estimating wind speed and numerous other variables, to drop a marker on X’s painted at different locations on the event grounds. Hill explains the marker is basically a large bean bag with a flag on it. Points are awarded on accuracy and to the balloon team that lands their bag nearest to targets over the five-day event.

“You navigate the balloon utilizing winds and estimating the speed that you’re traveling and how fast your marker will fall,” said Hill. “Our team was excited for the win. This was a big deal.”

Hill has been an airplane pilot for the past 20 years, and spent 12 years enjoying his passion as a hot air balloon pilot. “Balloon pilots must be certified just like a regular airplane pilot, with training, written tests, and proficiency testing by an FAA examiner.”

A hot air balloon pilot does not operate on his/her own. They usually have a team of four to eight people assisting the flight, with events like the Albuquerque Fiesta generating even more excited volunteers.

According to Hill, hot air balloon piloting is a bit more adventurous than regular flying due to the variables that dictate the flight. Excitement and unpredictability significantly figure into the equation. “You have to go with the wind. I also like it because unlike other aviation, these events are more social.”

While the New Mexico win was exciting, Hill isn’t letting moss grow on his balloon. He’s the ‘Balloon Meister’ (organizer) for two events closer to southern Utah. Along with two committees, Hill helps operate the Panquitch Balloon Festival, as well as the Page Balloon Fest held this past weekend.

In addition to his hectic competition and work schedule, Hill flies commercial hot air balloon rides for Amangiri. “I’ve met so many interesting people, some actors and actresses, even Bill and Melinda Gates and their sons,” said Hill. “That has been fun.”

Hill has flown around Kanab numerous times through the years. “I had one interesting flight when I took off from the football field behind the old middle school. I flew to Fredonia and landed,” recalled Hill. “In that short flight, I flew in two states and three counties.”

The Albuquerque Fiesta win will certainly not quell Hill’s addiction to hot air ballooning. There was a big purse attached to the first place. “I won a $23,000 new hot air balloon!”