Energizer Bunny Hot Hare Balloon that Glo Kelho will be piloting during this weekend’s Alabama Jubilee in Decatur.
Balloon pilot has niche
in specialty shapes
By Paul Huggins
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Twenty-seven years ago, Glo Kehoe probably would have described herself as a typical mother and wife.
Nothing out of the ordinary in her life. She didn't delve into much that would describe her as different.
But then she rode in a hot-air balloon. Within the year, she had her own balloon and was firmly tied to a sport where one day she'd be a giant.
Kehoe, 57, pilots the Energizer Bunny Hot Hare Balloon, the biggest or one of the biggest hot-air balloons in the world. And though there's no official records on it, the grandmother from Albuquerque figures she has logged more hours flying specialty shaped balloons than any balloon pilot in America.
Among the 13 or 14 she has flown are the Labatt's beer bottle, Swatch watch, United Van lines truck, Sea World Shamu, giant birthday cake, Burger King Whopper and Kodak film can.
The Energizer Bunny is easily the most challenging, she said.
At 166 feet, it's 15 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Its ears alone are 60 feet tall, as much as some typical balloons. And don't forget about those size 98 EEEEE flip-flops.
"Those feet are just so big, and they stick out far behind you, too," Kehoe said. "There's a lot to contend with. Like if there's a balloon that's fairly close to you, it would be hard to see it. I rely on my crew chief to know if somebody is close to me. We do have radio contact."
The bunny's size makes steering more difficult than with typical balloons. The wind blows in different directions at different altitudes, so ears can be blown one way and feet another.
"I have to do everything very carefully," Kehoe said. "I don't want to go screaming up into the air. I don't want the ears to touch the tail or something."
Landing is the hardest maneuver, she said, because she must find a place big enough to lay a 16-story building on its side. She usually finds schoolyards, church yards, parking lots and football fields.
Kehoe, now in her fifth year piloting the bunny, flew for recreation for four years before she delved into the professional world in 1984. The more airtime she logged, the more corporate customers and specialty shapes she got to represent.
Being a woman, she ran into resistance.
"I had to prove myself," she said. "(Corporations) were leery about having a woman on the road, the security and all that. And it does take some strength of course.
"And to this day I still have people come up to me and say they're looking for the pilot. They don't expect it to be me," Kehoe said. "I just take it in stride and laugh it off. Then they're actually, 'Wow that's great.' "
Although there are other professional female balloon pilots, Kehoe is confident she's the only professional female pilot flying on the national circuit and living on the road from April though October.
She logged about 30,000 highway miles last year, and will participate in 20 events this year. She and her ground chief, Sue Dietze, arrived in Decatur on Wednesday after spending last weekend in Baltimore for the Preakness horse race.
Since that first trio aloft in 1980, she has logged about 2,200 hours drifting above the earth. The experience still thrills her, she said.
"It's indescribable," Kehoe said. "It's like you're on this observation deck looking down on the world as it revolves around below you. I call it my magic carpet ride."
Whereas a typical teardrop balloon takes about 20 minutes to inflate, it takes the Energizer Bunny Hot Hare Balloon about an hour.
Though one person can pilot it, it takes a volunteer crew of 15 to 20 people to remove the 1,200-pound nylon envelope from its trailer and inflate it.
Total height: 166 feet — 15 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty
Ear height: 60 feet — As tall as the presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore.
Head: 30 feet wide and 45 feet long.
Sunglasses: 32 feet wide.
Drum: 45 feet in diameter and 20 feet wide.
Arms: 40 feet long.
Sandals: 60 feet long, 12 feet wide and 4 feet deep (shoes size 98 EEEEE)
Fabric: 5,000 linear yards, 60 feet wide
Thread: 84 miles
Balloon volume: 180,000 cubic feet. 550,000,000 AA batteries could fit inside it, enough to power a portable CD player for everyone in the United States.
Double burner output: 30,000,000 BTUs per hour — The equivalent amount of heat produced by 5,000 gas grills.
- Paul Huggins
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