Balloon pilots share love of flying with Natchez community

Published 2:26 pm Saturday, October 16, 2021

NATCHEZ — Kurt Vitense loves to fly. “I’m happiest when I’m in the air,” he said.

For the last 30 years, Vitense has flown private, corporate aircraft all over the world. He also has a hot air balloon ride business in the St. Louis area, where he lives.

This week he’s at his second home in Natchez and has been spending time before this weekend’s Natchez Balloon Festival, sharing his passion with others.

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He began participation in the Natchez Balloon Festival in 2018 and shortly after he and his wife, Kimberly, chose to buy a house here.

“We loved the culture, love flying here,” he said. “When I leave home it feels like I’m going away for a visit. But when I come here it feels like I’m coming home.”

Vitense is just one of a number of ballooners who came to town early to give close up experiences with their hot air balloons.

“We inflated at Adams County Nursing Home on Thursday. Those are folks who don’t often get out of their rooms and we wanted to bring them something different, something new to see,” Vitense said.

With assistance from nursing home staff and caregivers, residents lined the east fence-row of the facility and watched as Vitense and his crew inflated a hot air balloon.

On Thursday morning, Vitense did “a tether” for the engineering and aviation class students of Elizabeth Greer at Robert Lewis Magnet School and another at Cathedral School on Friday morning.

Students learned about the physics involved in flying, and participated in getting the balloon ready to inflate.

“These students got the hands on experience of putting theory into practice,” Vitense said. “Flying is a passion of mine. I love sharing that joy and passion with others. I hope what we do motivate and inspire young people to enter the field of aviation. We will soon have a shortage of pilots and mechanics. I’ve been blessed. Lots of people have given a hand to me along the way. I hope we can inspire and motivate and excite others about aviation.”

As a result of his work Thursday morning with the Robert Lewis Magnet School engineering and aviation class, he is putting together a student essay contest and will give a free hot air balloon ride to the winner.

“It’s easy to live when you love what you are doing,” he said.