Balloons + Pilots

The Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest brings in 12-15 balloon pilots from all around the world!

Balloon Meister

What’s a balloon meister, you ask?

The Balloon Meister is in charge of and coordinates all of the Balloon Activity at a Balloon Festival. A Balloon Meister also makes sure that all Balloon Pilots meet all FAA requirements. You need to be an FAA certified pilot and then you can branch off to your specific style of aircraft. Balloon Meisters must monitor and follow all weather activity, including wind. Weather plays a primary role in the launching of balloons and lots of effort and work goes into each launch at a festival. While everyone is out on the field getting ready to enjoy some balloon launches, the Balloon Meister is verifying the safety of everyone and monitors all activity through the launches.

Our Balloon Meister

Scott Griswold – Above All Balloon Rides

“The Griswold family has been in the ballooning business for 40 years. Since I was born, I have grown up around hot air balloons. Whether it is crewing, chasing, piloting, or just spectating, I have witnessed many amazing aspects and the growth of the sport. My father, Jim Griswold, was a major influence and contributor to hot air ballooning in the Central NY area. He was the co-founder of the well-known Jamesville Balloon Festival and he was responsible for training most of today’s local hot air balloon pilots.”


Mark Fritze - "Freedom Flyer"

My first balloon ride was in 1979, where I met my significant other. About 5 years later I helped a balloonist rescue his balloon from a light pole and from then on, I was hooked. He taught me to fly and I got my license in 1993. I am currently enjoying my third balloon and have acquired over 1,000 hours flying. I really love to take people up for their “bucket list” experience. I also enjoy some friendly competition.

Damien Ristaino - "Arizona"

Damien Ristaino is 44 and was born in Raleigh, North Carolina United States. His Mother is a certificated private pilot in the fixed wing category, single engine land. His Father was a expert parachutist, certificated parachute rigger, and commercial pilot in the light than air category hot air balloon. Damien Ristaino is a master parachutist holding two world records and 9 years of competition championships, certificated master parachute rigger, commercial pilot, lighter than air, hot air balloon. Damien Flies for hire part time and usually carriers skydivers and passengers. Damien has a full time career in Electronics and electro-mechanical maintenance servicing in industries such as healthcare and industrial as well as being self employed as Commercial Parachutist and Master Parachute Rigger.

Bob Scobee - "Touchstone Energy"

I’ve been flying balloons for over 30 years. The two main reasons I fly is because it allows me to travel and it allows me to share ballooning with people all over the country. Flying for Cooperative Balloon Associates and operating the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Balloon is a perfect opportunity to do both of those things. Ballooning is a full time profession and Fly Ohio Ballooning also operates an FAA certified repair station where I inspect balloons and put them back together when that occasional pole is sticking up in a field where someone lands. We also sell for Lindstrand Balloons USA, give lessons, operate multiple commercial balloons, and do a full time passenger operation. Yes, we don’t have any problem keeping busy and I am very excited to get the chance to fly in Tennessee. It’s the 24th state I’ve been fortunate to fly in.

Anthony Seeger - "Carolina Twist"

I started flying in 2006, but was volunteer crew before that. I average traveling to about 15 events a year, mainly along the east coast. Ballooning is only part time, I work full time at Carmax in Greenville, SC.

Wayne Fortney - "Rosie"

Wayne has been flying his balloon named Rosie since 1996. His entire family enjoys the sport, and he even met his wife on a balloon ride in Bristol, Virginia. “Miss Independence” joins “Rosie” as Adventure Time Ballooning’s newest addition to the fleet of Hot Air Balloons owned and operated by Wayne and Ann Fortney. Ballooning has taken Wayne and his family on adventures both near and far. Join them by scheduling a flight all year round at

Sean Richardson - "Color Me Badd"

Sean has been around balloons since he was little. His hometown has a balloon rally every year and he would help. As he got older he found other things that preoccupied his time until he met his wife. In 2008 he started helping out as crew for pilot Kenny Shumate. He and his wife helped with several balloon rallies up until 2014 when he bought his first balloon “Sky Candy.” He then focused on getting his commercial license and obtained it in 2016. Since then he has been to several balloon rallies on the east coast including the Lakeside of the Smokies last year. He hopes that everyone that flies in the balloon have a sweet and memorable flight!

Roger Clark - "Ram"

Roger has flown in most of the largest festivals, in many states, and in about every type of balloon. Check out his flying business Palmetto Sun Balloons! He has been a flight instructor, ground instructor, safety seminar instructor, balloon manufacturer worker (HEAD) and is currently a NAFI recognized Elite Balloon Instructor and past FAAST safety ambassador. Roger has flown for the following major sponsors: Ziploc, DIAL Brands, Re/Max, Longhorn Steakhouse, Coors Light, Crafted with Pride/Made in USA (2 balloons), WSPA-TV7, WESC-92.5 FM, Freedom Weekend Aloft, and numerous individual banner events and sponsors. Roger currently owns five balloons and flies as much as possible with multiple students and at festivals all around the Southeast.

2021 will mark 40 years of aviation for him since he started at age 13. He has topped 4,000 hours of flight time in fixed-wing and LTA aircraft.

Peter Griswold - "Pokey the Turtle"

Peter Griswold is a second generation balloon pilot and aviation enthusiast. Hot air balloons came into Peter’s life at age 2 through his father, Jim Griswold. It was never a question of if Peter would become a pilot, the question was when. At age 14, Peter began his piloting journey and over 30 years he has not looked back. Peter’s flying experiences moved to airplanes at age 16 and over the years he has added an Airline Transport Pilot certificate to his Commercial single engine land and sea, multi-engine land, Instrument rating and, of course, Lighter Than Air-Hot air balloons. After attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University Peter pursued a career in Business aviation to support his ballooning habits. Peter has served in the Chief Pilot, Director of Training, FAA Check Airmen, Standards Captain and Flight Instructor roles for many different Aviation organizations. The Griswold family owns and operates Pokey the flying turtle, Grizz the flying bear and a few other regular shaped balloons from 34,000 cubic feet up to 120,000 cubic feet. As a native of Syracuse, NY, Peter now lives in Peachtree City, GA with his supportive wife Stacy and kids Ella (13) and Chase (11), who love to help with the balloons.

Bob Ward - "Goin' Batty 3"

When I was a child, I was fascinated by flying objects….whether birds, bugs, butterflies, airplanes or rockets! I got my airplane pilots license at age 19 and then family happened, and I had to put aside flying for awhile. In 1986 my neighbor bought a hot air balloon, invited me for a ride, and the rest is history! I have been flying my own balloons since 1990. I love competition and introducing first time passengers to the wonder of a balloon ride! I also enjoy tethering at many festivals. Come out and get introduced to ballooning close up! You won’t regret it!

Justin Cortright

Justin is operating the “walk balloon” at the festival. Justin is a pilot from Binghamton, NY. He has grown up around balloons from a young age and is a 2nd generation balloonist. He flies the “Dude” balloon, which is part of Brothers Over Broome Balloon team. Justin and his family have attended balloon festivals up and down the east coast for as long as he can remember. His first balloon flight was when he was 4.5 years old and has never looked back. In 2014, an opportunity presented itself to purchase a balloon from another fellow ballooning family; the Griswold’s. The sport of ballooning has played a huge part of his upbringing and family tradition. His fondest memory is attending Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in 1996 for the 25th anniversary. The sport of balloon is such a tight knit group and has brought everlasting friendships along the way. He hopes to one day pass the torch (“burner”) onto his son to carry on the tradition.

Charles Blair - "A-Nuther-Star"

Charles Blair has been Ballooning for over 41 years, he has always had a passion for anything that could fly. When his was 7, his uncle built a balloon from scratch, wove the basket, made the burner, and sewed a balloon together and on the very 1st flight, he told Charles to get in. (Charles did not kick and scream he just smiled from ear to ear and obliged). Ever since then, Charles always wanted to be a part of each and every flight from crewing, flying, and even listening in on weather briefings just to be involved somehow some way in ballooning. In 2006 Charles obtained his Private Rating for LTA (thanks to his uncle/instructor), and in 2014 he then became Commercial in LTA. In 2016, he had started his own ride business. Charles loves the comradery with all his fellow balloon pilots at about 10 festivals per year that he attends.

Manning Bowie - "Rising Star"

Welcome Manning Bowie of Martinez, GA. He is bringing his beautiful balloon “Rising Star.”

Will Randell - "Taz"

Welcome pilot Will Randell of Pennsylvania. Will is bringing his brand new shape balloon, “Taz!” Check out Will’s ballooning website and Facebook Pages.

Benjamin Drennan - "Sunny Boy"

Welcome Benjamin Drennan of Cordele, GA. He is bringing this special shape balloon, “Sunny Boy!”

Ken Leota - "Sir Prize"

My name is Ken Leota and I have been involved in ballooning for 37 years, along with my wife Janet. Our kids, Adam and Katie, have been crewing with us since birth! As things have progressed, Adam’s girlfriend Courtney and Katie’s husband Brandon are now part of the Team. We have been Very Lucky to have had long time friends/crew members, Vince & Patty, John & Rosie, and their families (as well as many others). One of the many things I love about Ballooning is the friends and smiles we have made over the years… looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing – except maybe starting sooner! We are truly Blessed to be able to share this wonderful sport with everyone we have met over the years!

Duncan Dunavent - "Pokey the Turtle"

At just 10 years old, my dad and I saw Paul Morlock flying. So, of course, we chased him down. Paul said to come out the next day, so we did…and did…and did. As we kept showing up, all the pilots we met started inviting my dad and me to crew. It was soon just about a full-time thing. My primary instructors have been Drew Egerton and Marsha Treacy, but I did some training flights with almost every pilot in the Statesville area. I still fly Spreebird—a 1986 Balloon Works model built in Statesville. I love the colors and design. It’s kind of cool knowing that I’m flying a piece of Statesville’s early balloon history. Right now, I don’t have a crew chief because my crew changes—they are family, Todd, Bonnie, and Dannette, and lots of friends—I couldn’t do it without them.

Get in Touch

There are so many ways to become involved with the festival. Sign up to be a volunteer, learn about our sponsorship opportunities, or donate to the festival.

295 W. Dumplin Valley Rd
Dandridge, TN 37725