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Wed, Apr 07, 2004

Champion Balloonist Nick Donner Takes to the Air at Embry-Riddle

Teaching A New Dawg Old Tricks?

At age 19, Nick Donner has already been the US National Hot Air Balloon Champion twice -- in 2001 and in 2003 -- and is captain of the American team that will compete at the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Australia this June.

The young balloonist is also a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's premier university specializing in aviation and aerospace. "I've always wanted to be a pilot," Donner says, "so what better place to get my degree than Embry-Riddle?"

Donner is a freshman in the Aeronautical Science (professional pilot) degree program at Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach campus. He'll graduate in 2007 and plans to become either a US Navy pilot or an airline pilot with UPS.

"I've been around ballooning all my life and that definitely increased my desire to learn how to fly," Donner says. Ballooning is indeed a family affair for the Donners of Fisherville (KY). Donner's father, Ray, and his younger brother, Chase, are balloon pilots, and his sister, Amelia, also has her eye on the sky.

"Fourteen is the age when you can get a hot air balloon license in America," Donner says, "and Amelia is only 13, so she'll have to wait until her birthday this October."

Donner, who holds instrument single-engine land and commercial hot air balloon ratings, flew his first balloon solo on his 14th birthday, almost three years before he was legally allowed to drive a car. He was Kentucky's youngest balloon pilot.

In 2001, at age 17, Donner became the youngest pilot ever to win the US National Hot Air Balloon Championship. At the same event he was named US Rookie of the Year. In 2002 he took first place at the Motegi Hot Air Balloon International Championship in Japan and seventh place at the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in France. In 2003 he was again the US National Champion.

At age 20, Donner will be the captain of the American team at the World Hot Air Balloon Championship to be held in Mildura, Australia, this year. "The six other men on the American team are all at least 10 years older than me and are the nation's best balloonists," Donner says. "I'm really honored to be on their team."

This year he'll also be competing in the US National Hot Air Balloon Championships in Anderson (SC) in July and in Baton Rouge (LA) in August.

In competitions sanctioned by the Balloon Federation of America and the North American Balloon Association, pilots are  graded on their navigation ability and whether they meet their planned cruise altitude and drop weighted bags accurately on marked sites.

Lindstrand Balloons USA is the manufacturer of Donner's balloon, named the "Blue Grass Racer." The company provides him with technical and fabrication support.

FMI: www.erau.edu

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