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Liberti’s share family passion of ballooning

August 17, 2018

MITCHELL — As a young boy growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Chris Liberti had a fascination with balloons.

Since his parents ran a concession stand at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in the 1970s and 1980s, they saw balloons often. The balloon fiesta is a huge event in October that showcases over 600 balloons.

The Libertis would bring their four children to the fiesta during the weekends, since the event occurred during the school year.

“As a very little kid, I used to love seeing the balloons in the distance and when we’d get up close to them, I remember being absolutely mesmerized,” said Chris Liberti.

When Chris was 5 years old, he told his dad he wanted to go up in the air. His dad’s response was, “If you want to go in a balloon, you need to ask the pilot.”

The pilot happened to be his father’s boss, so he gathered up the courage and asked for a ride. His first ride was on Christmas Eve in 1984. As the balloon lifted, there was no change in sound or motion and in a matter of minutes, he found himself in the sky.

“Had I closed my eyes, I probably never would have known we’d left the ground,” he said. “At the same time, there was something very intriguing, even at age 5, of being held in the sky by a giant bag of air.”

Daniel was the youngest of four siblings and grew up around balloons.

“It was just one of those things where I always knew I wanted to fly,” said Daniel.

Still, education was important to his parents, so they came up with a deal where once he graduated from Arizona State University, he could get his pilot’s license.

While flying is a major part of ballooning, there is also the unloading and transformation of equipment into a seven-story tall aircraft. Chris said, “I have always loved how they are built, how they are put together, rigging them, how the burners work.”

The passion for balloons is a family affair that began when Chris learned how to fly a balloon from his uncle in the early 1990s. Chris and Daniel fly by feel whereas their father and uncle approach it from an analytical perspective. That made training each other a challenge. After Chris learned how to fly, Daniel served as the main crew member, despite being 12 years old.

At the age of 16, Chris became a licensed pilot. While his father did not have much interest in the sport, Daniel was always along for the ride. Daniel was there when Chris earned his license and has been a family crew member since the beginning.

The two still enjoy going on balloon rides and now they have an additional family member as a member of the crew — their father. While their father was as concession operator at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque for years, he was not involved with flying for the first couple years of Chris becoming a pilot.

“He approached me one day, completely out of the blue, and asked me to train him,” recalled Chris. “So I think that, after seeing us out flying and having fun, it just provided a different aspect of flying that he could connect to. And he became an awesome and incredibly safe pilot.”

Hot air balloons have been woven into the Liberti family for decades and has inspired them to share their passion with everyone they meet. When they attend events, they connect with the kids by offering fun activities.

“I will have the kids come up when I am in the round balloon and take them up 30 feet on a tethered ride,” Daniel said. “Sometimes, I let the kids walk inside the balloon, being aware of the ground we are on.”

“For me, there is a part of this where I want the rest of the world to feel what I felt that first time I lifted off the ground,” said Chris. “It makes it almost a natural default to include our friends and family in this so they can see what it’s all about.”

Daniel’s experience in the air has afforded him opportunities to fly a variety of balloons, some that are more traditional and other larger balloons.

“The biggest balloon I have ever flown was 300 cubic feet and had three to four burners and could carry 14 passengers on board,” he said. Still, the best part of being a pilot is giving people a safe ride for their first experiences.

Beyond participating in the Old West Balloon Fest, the Libertis are looking forward to seeing the sights.

“We are going tubing down the river and some locals are coming with us,” said Daniel. “We also are just kind of getting to know the area since we will be up there for the next three years for competition.”

As the Libertis become comfortable with the Scottsbluff area and prepare for a busy year of ballooning, they are excited to share their lifelong passion with the public.

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