The Sky's The Limit Ballooning, Inc.
The Sky's The Limit Home Page About Us Testimonials
The Sky's The Limit Ballooning, Inc.
Year-round Balloon Rides
Gift Certificates
Flight Instruction
Promotions & Advertising
Tethers & Special Events
History of Ballooning
Ballooning FAQs
Photo Gallery
The Sky's The Limit Ballooning, Inc.


Hot air balloonist Kevin Witt is a stickler for safety, which should be a relief for anyone willing to splurge for a one-hour, $165 balloon ride. Witt claims that the key to avoiding dangerous situations is to watch the skies. “By paying attention to the weather, you avoid accidents:’ he says. “A lot of people ask, ‘What if you get caught in thunderstorm?’ Well, you don’t.” His unwillingness to challenge the elements has paid off—he boasts a perfect safety record and is determined to keep it that way. Many balloon accidents are the result of “operator negligence”— anxious pilots who ignore weather patterns and go up anyway, usually blame the wind for any problems. “The balloon goes with the wind, so that can’t be an excuse:’ Witt says, adding that, in the event of questionable weather, the pilot should always err on the side of caution. “It’s better to be down wishing you were up, than up wishing you were down.”

Witt, 37, owns and operates The Sky’s The Limit Ballooning, Inc. out of his home in Lemont where he lives with his wife Kathryn, a marketing manager at AccuWeather, and their two sons. A Penn State graduate from the Bald Eagle area, Witt first became infatuated with ballooning as a kid when he’d watch the hot air balloons take off on Sunday afternoons during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts Witt later moved to Annapolis, Maryland, where, in 1992, he met his ballooning mentor, Gordon Anderson. A year later he was an FAA certified hot air balloon pilot and a licensed instructor. “I considered getting an airplane prop license:’ he says,” but that requires 40 to 50 hours of flight time and you need to learn the air space. With ballooning it’s 10 hours. And with my budget, that was reasonable.”

After learning that I was a contributor to State College Magazine, Witt offers to take me up, free of charge. I accept, figuring a balloon trip would be good fodder for a story, and on a windy Friday afternoon last September, he met me in Ferguson Township to make good on his offer. I quickly learn that the tell-tale signs of unfavorable ballooning weather are moving branches and wild “pie balls”—helium-filled balloons released to determine wind speed and direction. The winds calm slightly, so Witt makes preparations for the flight. He stretches out the 60-foot balloon and begins to inflate it with two heavy-duty fans while I hold the skirt of the balloon open. The air quickly fills the balloon and Witt walks around it, inspecting, and occasionally tugging, the fabric. Wearing gloves to avoid rope burn, I hold on tightly to the line that’s keeping the balloon mouth open. After a few minutes, Witt turns one fan off, and wheels it away. Then he heads for the burners, yells the standard warning, “Hot and loud!” and turns them on. The flames shoot into the balloon mouth, heating up the air and hastening the inflation. But the breeze persists and Witt decides to call off the flight. “We could have gone:’ he says. “But I don’t want to jeopardize my 100% safety record.”

It’s a month and a half later, and we’re going to try again. I meet Kevin at the Nittany Mall parking lot, where he waits in his van with today’s volunteer crew—Josh Sorber and Scott Saxton, both of whom are 23 year-old Penn State undergrads. “Not much will get a college student out of bed this early” says Saxton, who recently received his commercial ballooning license.

The temperature is a brisk 33 degrees, and the winds are calm. Witt tests a pie ball and it ascends almost straight up. Since we intend to travel over State College and the winds are moving in a easterly direction, we’re set up west of town at Haymarket Park. Witt quickly walks around the inflating balloon, checking and double-checking, and then fires up the burners. Two morning walkers stop to watch the balloon take shape. Witt turns the second fan off and tells me to climb aboard, I get into the basket, followed by Sorber, and then Witt hops in. Saxton will be the one-man “chase crew” and follow us on the ground in the van.

We rise into the air, slower than an elevator, and watch the cars and houses grow smaller. Witt uses his CB to inform the airport, “out of courtesy” that the balloon was in the air. A balloon is steered through the use of winds. The winds at different altitudes blow in different directions. To steer, a balloonist ascends or descends the balloon and flows with the direction of the winds. “When up in the sky, you don’t feel the wind because you’re traveling with it Witt says. “Theoretically, you could hold a candle up and it wouldn’t blow out. It’s three and a half degrees cooler for every 1000 feet you go up, but it’s still relatively warm, because people feel the warmth of the burner.”

The basket shakes and sways as we hover in the sky. The neighborhoods below begin to look like a model railroad setup and the construction on Interstate 99 resembles pieces of a puzzle. Simultaneously awed and exhilarated, I’m in a state of bird’s-eye euphoria! We watch a half-dozen deer running across a bare field and then fly over a day care center where the children stare and wave excitedly at us. “Everyone knows when you’re flying a balloon’ Witt says. An hour later, (though it seemed like only minutes), it’s time to come down. As we look for a landing spot, Witt communicates with Saxton in the van, studies the trees for an indication of wind direction and, most importantly, watches for power lines. We find a small field to land in, bouncing softly several times before coming to rest. Suddenly, a van pulls up and two men get out. They had been watching us fly and wanted information about ballooning and the possibility of taking a ride. “Flying is the best advertising,” Witt tells me after the men leave and we begin to pack up the balloon. Before we finish, he reads the flight stats from his GPS. We flew 10 miles in one hour and 19 minutes at an average of 7.6 miles per hour.

Once the balloon skirt is stored away and the basket is placed in the trailer, we drive back to the mall parking lot for our cars. There we have the traditional, post-flight champagne toast—substituting apple cider for the bubbly since some of us had to work later that day—and Witt recites a balloonist’s prayer that sums up the morning’s flight perfectly: “The Winds have welcomed us with softness. The Sun has blessed us with warm hands. We have flown so high and so well, that God has joined us in our laughter. And He has set us gently back again. Into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”

For further information, call (814) 234-5986 or visit The Sky's The Limit Website.

Back to LAZine