|Maverik’s balloon goes on Wilde ride|
|September 10, 2015 Jerry Purvis|
Ken Kurtz/Spectrum Photography - Daren Wilde and his son Skylar, of Park City, Utah, were in the area last week to take part in the Old West Balloon Fest … Re-Inflated on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, neighbors were drawn to an empty field in southeast Gering. There, pilot Daren Wilde made a slow descent in his bright red Maverik hot air balloon.
His arrival in Gering was typical of the spectacle created by 18 balloon pilots who came from all across the country to set up at the old Mitchell airport Saturday for the Old West Balloon Fest … Re-Inflated. Nineteen-eighty-eight was the last time balloons appeared in the area.
Launch time was scheduled for 6 a.m., but that was pushed back because of overcast skies and the threat of rain. By 7 a.m., the first balloon was off.
Daren Wilde, of Park City, Utah, planned to fly over Scotts Bluff National Monument, but the prevailing winds carried his balloon just to the south. He said the wind travels in different directions, depending on the altitude. “Some of the balloons stayed lower and tracked north of Scottsbluff. I took a higher altitude, caught a different wind and headed farther south,” he said.
Wilde’s route took him over parts of Scottsbluff, where sponsor Maverik runs a convenience store. Making a wide arcing right, the balloon skirted the Monument, over Gering’s Memorial Stadium, and the Civic Center before landing in a field in southeast Gering.
“I took a different track, starting on the north side of Scottsbluff and ended up in Gering,” Wilde said. “The winds even calmed down for the landing. We were in the air for about an hour.”
The balloon Wilde flies is part of the promotion for Maverik, Inc., in North Salt Lake City, Utah, which has convenience stores in nine western states.
Wilde said about three years ago, he took one of Maverik’s corporate vice presidents for a ride in his own balloon. The company decided to invest in its own balloon, and contracted with Wilde to fly it at various events such as balloon festivals, and store openings.
Wilde’s own company, Morningstar Balloons of Park City, Utah, has been providing commercial balloon rides for weddings and other events the past 15 years.
Wilde has a degree in aeronautical studies and 16 years of flight experience with the Air Force. His last assignment was in a T1A Jayhawk, a transport trainer for pilots who will eventually fly heavy transport planes.
After retirement, Wilde returned to his home in Salt Lake. “I got involved with a gentleman in Park City who ran a balloon business and was reaching the end of his career,” Daren said. “He was tired of the marketing end, but still enjoyed flying. So, I promoted his company, and he taught me how to fly balloons. They came natural to me.”
That eventually led to the founding of Morningstar Balloons in 2001. The company currently has three balloons.
Wilde’s 16-year-old son Skylar is his crew chief. “My dad took me up for a ride on my eighth birthday, and I never stopped going up,” he said. “I help get the balloon set up and packed away after a flight.”
This is Wilde’s third time in Nebraska. He said this area has lots of open space, which makes for easy landings.
“When we landed Saturday, about 100 people came out from their neighborhoods to visit with us. They were just so nice. That’s what gets me excited about flying balloons. The joy and excitement it gives people makes it all worthwhile. How many people can say they have that kind of job?”