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Meet the Pilots

Up, up, and away they go!

SoIN Balloon Pilot

Derek Browning

Derek Browning is from Louisville, Ky., where he lives with his wife and three children. He began his ballooning career in 1978 as a crew member for the Sunny Side of Louisville balloon in Southern Indiana (now known as SoIN!). He earned his pilot’s license in 1995 and purchased his first balloon upon retirement in 2011. Over the past ten years he has obtained his commercial pilot’s license, allowing him to travel around the United States flying in dozens of events and for several ballooning companies.

The ballooning community is like family to Derek, and he loved flying with the legends whom he crewed for as he grew up. His favorite parts of the sport now are going to new places, meeting new people and old friends, and seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they fly!

Jerry Copas

Balloon pilot Jerry Copas of Sellersburg, Indiana is a historian, author, freelance writer, and graphic artist. He has flown balloons in over thirty states and seven countries including Australia, Dubai and Switzerland. In 2021 Jerry was awarded the Balloon Federation of America’s Ed Yost Award for 40 years of safe ballooning. He has logged time in 113 different balloons including 15 special shapes.  Jerry has enjoyed many unique flights over the years, including a flight during a solar eclipse, four career “key grab” competitions, and a first-place finish in the 2024 Kentucky Derby Festival Great Balloon Race.  Jerry has written articles on lighter-than-air history for Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Aviation History Magazine, and Ballooning Magazine. He authored the book “The Wreck of the Naval Airship USS Shenandoah”. He is a former president of The Balloon Society of Kentucky and currently serves as club historian.  He is a balloon flight instructor and speaks at seminars and symposiums on ballooning safety.  Jerry’s wife Kathy and son Spencer are also commercial balloon pilots.  Spencer is a United States Air Force officer.  In their family ballooning business, the trio have flown balloons nationwide for companies like Jack Daniels, Caesars Palace, Michelin, Safeway Supermarkets, RE/MAX Realty, and many others.  Jerry is a lifelong resident of Clark & Floyd Counties in Indiana and is proud to extol the virtues of living in SoIN!

Michael J. Stinson

Michael Stinson is a commercial balloon pilot with 800 plus hours and an FAA certified balloon repairman. He also works part-time at a repair station in Taylorsville, Ky. and has served as a City of Louisville Firefighter since March of 1998. He is currently a Battalion Safety Chief assigned to Fire Headquarters. Mike started ballooning in the early 80s with his uncle who flew for Thrifty Car Rental. He has flown in cities across the U.S. and in Mexico, and his most memorable balloon flight to date was over the Grand Canyon in the winter of 2021.

Mike is the owner and operator of a balloon ride company called Xclusive Balloons. They offer balloon rides, tethered rides and operate several corporate balloons. Mike’s family is a big part of the company. His son is also a pilot and helps daily with operations. Learn more about the company’s balloon ride offerings at Xclusiveballoons.com.

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