What’s in a name? Balloonists get creative with aircraft

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, October 22, 2017


NATCHEZ — Besides their often bright colors and unique patterns, one way to distinguish between the hot-air balloons that glided through the skies during this year’s Great Mississippi River Balloon Race was by their name.

For some the name came stress-free, while others found the task a bit more challenging.

Email newsletter signup

When Martin Booda had his balloon manufactured in 2001, he happened to be reading a World War II historical novel by Thomas Pynchon called “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

In the book — which Booda said is his favorite — one of the characters lends a ride on a hot-air balloon to another, sparking the name for his balloon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

“When I came across the part about the flight, I started thinking about the name,” he said. “Since flying has to do with gravity, too, I thought it would be good.”

Coincidentally, Booda’s balloon name also correlates with its design — a color scheme created by friends he asked to help .

“I really had no idea what I wanted it to look like,” he said. “It was almost like a contest, and some of them came up with some interesting designs. We settled on this sort of spiral rainbow pattern.”

Booda said since the plot of the book contains many twists and turns, including a giant man-eating octopus, he wasn’t surprised to have unintentionally made a connection to his balloon’s design.

“(The book) is not an easy read and very odd. It was an unusual coincidence, but there are many unusual things in the book.

“It was the first time I read it and understood the book, and I loved the challenge to try and figure out what they were talking about.”

Last year, Booda was forced to revamp his beloved balloon after years of flying but decided to keep the name.

“The original manufacturer did an inspection on the balloon and he recommended I had it replaced. He ended up replacing 100 percent of the fabric, so it’s basically the same,” Booda said. “It’s supposed to be bad luck if you change the name of your balloon.

“I like the name, and I’m sticking to it.”

Mike Wadley also enlisted the help of others when coming up with a name for his balloon Renegade. After all, it’s how he became interested in flying in the first place.

“Both my parents were pilots, and I have learned a tremendous amount from them,” Wadley said. “It’s a whole family thing, and I just grew up with it.”

Wadley said when he became the second owner of his balloon — which he has had for three years — he wanted to involve his family.

Wadley’s wife, Michelle, son Nick and daughter, Lauren all had a say in the matter, Wadley said.

“I talked about it with the kids, and we threw some different names out there,” he said. “We had a good time coming up with names. Some were pretty funny and silly. This one kind of hit me and stuck with me.”

After having his pilot’s license for 20 years and three different balloons in his life, Wadley said Renegade was the right fit.

“It speaks to the character with balloons in general,” he said. “They do what the weather wants them to do and that’s OK — that’s the adventure of it.

“Balloons are just out there and on a frontier of their own.”

This year’s race, Wadley said, is the first time he and his entire family have raced in the Natchez event.

“Last year it was just my wife and I,” he said. “We really wanted to bring the kids this year.”

For Jason Gaines, people often ask him about his wife — except he doesn’t have one.

Gaines’ balloon Cheaper Than A Wife, which was built in 2009, was named on a whim, he said.

“I just thought of it, and I thought it would be funny,” Gaines said. “I’m a strange character, and I’m glad people always get a kick out of it. They laugh and they giggle.”

Cheaper Than A Wife is not the first time Gaines has had a unique balloon name, either.

Gaines said his first balloon — one he owned for 10 years — was first a commercial balloon.

“It used to say ‘Cameron Balloons’ on the side. In order to race it in events, I had to decommercialize it for competition,” he said. “I just took all the letters off until it said ‘A Balloon.’”

And while Gaines said he does get a good amount of comments about the name of his current balloon, he doesn’t take the matter too seriously.

“A lot of people like to name their balloon after their kids or something to do with the sky, but I thought I’d be a little bit different,” he said. “All my friends that I have seen go through a divorce say it’s expensive. I’d just rather have a balloon than a wife.

“So far, so good.”