Up in the Air: Hot Air Ballooning in Statesboro

Casey Rohlen

When you enter the throes of adulthood it’s far too easy to lose your sense of childlike wonder. We once stared up in awe of the skies; now we can hardly look past the work week ahead to the weekend. The good news is that it can be an easy fix – to branch out and find something that will put a genuine smile back on our face – and maybe the answer is up in the skies after all.

Cameron Jones

For people like Statesboro’s own Cameron Jones, the answer came from joining the niche community of hot air ballooning. After graduating from Georgia Southern with a Bachelor of Arts in English and serving six years in the Air Force (including two tours in Iraq), Jones decided to get back to doing what he loved: hot air ballooning. No stranger to flight from his upbringing and his time in the Air Force, Jones became a second-generation hot air balloon pilot after training under Pembroke native and world-record-holder Andy Cayton.

“That was what we did every weekend was go help my dad fly balloons. That was the family business,” Jones said. “Now I want to do it to bring something to the community and to be able to pay for the hobby myself. There are plenty of things to do here [in Statesboro] if you know where to look.”

After being a Federal Aviation Administration-licensed pilot for three years, Jones recently launched Southeastern Balloon Services and some of those who have taken to the air with him have come out of it with a new perspective on life.

Jon Horely and his fiancé won a trip to fly with Jones after he won a Statesboro disc golf tournament. After going up, the self-described outdoor enthusiast and adventurer said he would jump at the chance to try it again.

“It was on my life-list, it was one of the things I just had to do and would more than like to do it again,” Horely said. “Sure, I was nervous but once you’re up there it’s just so peaceful. It’s so quiet. No noise pollution or anything so there was really nothing quite like it.”

Besides the tranquility one may experience during a hot air balloon ride, they should also take comfort in the fact that hot air ballooning is the safest form of flight by the numbers. According to CNN, from the year 2000 to 2014, 728 people died in U.S. commercial and commuter airplane crashes compared to just 37 deaths in hot air balloon accidents. Fear of a car crash would be more reasonable than of a hot air balloon crash.

“It has no gears. It has no wings or engine or gears. There is simply just not as much to go wrong up there compared to any other type of travel,” Jones said.

The height the balloons travel at is both their biggest adversary and their biggest draw when it comes to companies finding clientele. But 54-year-old Metter native Judy Jones had longed for the day when she could take flight and cross it off her bucket list. After being surprised by her husband for her birthday last year, Judy Jones finally got her chance.

“It was so so amazing. After looking for spots, Cameron came to our house and we took off from our backyard actually,” Judy Jones excitedly recounted. “We had a great time, the best time. I really don’t know what else to say but that it was phenomenal and I’ll never forget it.”

The Balloon Federation of America estimates that there are 150 to 200 commercial hot air balloon pilots in the United States so it may be difficult to find one in the Statesboro area with the expertise of Cameron Jones. Both Jon Horely and experienced crew hand Erica Santo swear to his ability to navigate the different wind streams and altitudes as well as landing the balloon.

“One of my favorite memories in ballooning entirely came during a five-minute flight with Cameron. We flew over this lake and he dropped it down on the beach,” Santo said. “It’s hard to explain how small the windows of opportunity are when you’re doing this, you’re basically at the whim of the wind so for him to land it on such a small area was truly amazing.”

To contact Cameron Jones you can visit his website at www.southeasternballoonservices.com or call at 912-688-4261. A 40-minute balloon trip with a champagne toast and hands-on balloon education costs $225 per person on weekdays and $250 per person on weekends.