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Hes ready to go up, up, and away
Brent Stockwell powers up his hot air balloon as he gets ready to take off for a pastime that has entertained him for more than four decades. - photo by Photo Contributed
Brent Stockwell always felt at home when he was soaring high above the ground.

Whether it was an airplane, a glider, a helicopter, or a balloon, Stockwell enjoyed the freedom that flying gave him from an early age and was committed to making it a longtime passion.

But when he got laid off from his job at CBS Radio, little did he know that he’d take his love for flying to a whole new level – turning what had been his hobby into his business.

“I was very fortunate at the time to be able to make that jump,” Stockwell said. “I’m barely making a living, but I’m still making a living and that’s really what counts.”

With ballooning as his emerging passion, Stockwell started Balloon Excelsior inside of Industrial Park and earned an FAA certification certificate that allowed him to perform yearly inspections on balloons and make repairs if they were necessary. It  supplements his love for being in the air and teaching others about the benefits of soaring high over the ground in a virtually free-moving object.

In all he’s had more than 350 people pass through his class to become certified – with some estimating that he’s trained more hot air balloon pilots than anyone else in the country. He still takes the time to go up whenever he has a chance to get the birds-eye view that made him fall in love the first time.

“Balloons are very interesting and self-satisfying because you’re up there and you’re all alone,” Stockwell said. “You don’t have any instruments, and you don’t have to radio in to anybody to get instructions on what to do.

“You’re totally responsible – totally in control – and when you come back in and land you have that satisfaction that you did that all by yourself.”

With the Color the Skies balloon festival and fundraiser coming up this weekend at Mistlin Park in Ripon, Stockwell plans to be there Friday to offer media rides and spend Saturday and Sunday with his two balloons flying over the heart of the Central Valley with a white and red Dodge Sprinter chase car tailing him.

He isn’t quite sure about whether he’ll be dropping the planned parachute out of his balloon (Stockwell says he still has to check on the legality of doing something like that) but he’s definitely looking forward to being part of one of the biggest hot air balloon festivals in the region that’s being organized to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Northern California.

“I think that it’s a good cause, and even though I don’t have any children myself, I think that they deserve the best medical care possible just like anyone else,” Stockwell said. “It’s a hospital that’s supposed to be famous for taking care of children up and down the valley, and to see something like this support is great.”

The 2009 Color the Skies balloon festival begins on Saturday, Sept. 5 with a pancake breakfast that starts at 5:30 a.m. The balloons will inflate and launch between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. on both days of the event. For more information about the festival visit its website at