Helena resident flies in style with hot air balloons

By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

HELENA – If you’re driving through the streets of Helena on a weekend, you may see a peculiar sight in a hot air balloon flying through the sky. It’s become almost like a celebrity sighting on social media, with people in various Helena Facebook groups posting their random sightings from their cars and front yards.

The man responsible is William Davis, the owner of Southern Balloon Journeys out of Helena, Alabama. While Davis, a Helena resident, works at his office job during the week, on weekends he takes enthusiastic people for hot air balloon rides. Though it’s his side business, Davis thoroughly enjoys the hobby.

It was purely by accident that Davis got involved in the hot air balloon world. “I was going to do a model of a hot air balloon, and I came across some websites of actual hot air balloons,” he explained. “The next thing I know, I’m looking into actually buying one.”

Davis has a history with flying, earning his certificate for fixed-wing aircrafts back in the 1980’s. He said learning to fly a hot air balloon was “an easy transition, really.”

Once he flew his first hot air balloon, he was hooked, and he began the company as a way to pay for the hobby. He began selling rides, and the rest is history.

“It is [very popular]. This year has been extremely busy,” he said. “My schedule is full through the end of the year, and I’m currently scheduling flights into next year.”

Davis said having fun is all part of the sport. “The hobby itself is fun. Any time we fly that’s part of the fun. We use the balloon all the time. Taking passengers up is the fun part of the sport, getting to see their faces,” Davis said.

The two locations Davis is most fond of for flights are two separate fields, one out by the Bessemer Airport, the other by the Shelby County Airport. “We pick the location for the flight based on the forecast and wind direction,” he said. “You just want the wind to be pushing in a direction where you have plenty of landing opportunities: open fields and landings without trees.”

Davis said most of the time his passengers are small, individual flights with like couples, but they do sometimes work bigger engagements.

“We attend a couple of festivals throughout the year and those are more a fun activity, but we aren’t doing those for business,” he said. “There are engagement flights where people get engaged. We do several of those throughout the year. We do lots of events where we tether, so any kind of large group event we tether the balloon to the ground, take a few people up about 50 or 75 feet, then bring it back down.”

Despite what some may think, Davis said owning a hot air balloon business is “just like any other kind of business,” with typical management concerns such as budgeting, planning, and making sure everything goes smoothly.

The feeling when rising up in a hot air balloon is surprisingly not adrenaline pumping excitement, according to Davis. “Passengers describe it as being calm,” he said, “Because there’s no noise, you’re just floating above the ground, they think it’s really peaceful and they enjoy the flight.”