The History of the Balloon Federation of America

by Deke Sonnichsen
First Editor, Ballooning Journal of the Balloon Federation of America

The BFA we know today, as a federation of individual balloonists, dates back to early 1967, when the original BFA Constitution (of gas balloon clubs, dated March 26, 1961) was significantly amended by Don Kersten, Peter Pellegrino and Ed Yost, at the offices of the National Aeronautic Association in Washington, D.C. This purposeful action brought into being the very first national organization of individual gas and hot air balloon pilots.

As background information, it is well known that both gas and "smoky" hot air balloon activity in the USA dates back to the late 1700s. There were even "organized" gas balloon efforts in the 1800s and early 1900s under the aegis of the Aero Club of American, a forerunner of today's NAA. The events held were basically airshows, races and elimination events to select US participants for the James Gordon Bennett Balloon Races. In the early '50s, The Balloon Club of America, of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (gas only) was looked upon by the NAA as the sole US balloon representative. By the late 50s, other gas balloon groups such as National-Lighter-Than-Air and the Balloon Flyers of Akron petitioned the NAA for representation. In 1961 the first "BFA" was created as a federation of the US gas balloon clubs.

With the creation of the modern hot air balloon in the early 60s, the first Hot Air Balloon National Championships were held in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1963. In 1964, 65, and 66, Balloon Championships were held in conjunction with the national Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. These events, and others, came under the domain of the NAA, since no "authorized" hot air organization existed in their eyes. The sport Balloon Society of the USA was incorporated in California in 1965. SBS USA organized, among other events, the International Aeroclassic Balloon Races in 1965 and the first International Hot Air Balloon Race from the Top-of-the-Tram above Palm Springs in 1967.

The rapid growth of hot air balloon activity caused the NAA to rethink their position and they urged the BFA to include both gas and hot air balloons. The reorganization of the BFA occurred in June, 1967, with a five person Board to serve until the 1968 Annual Meeting. As there was a zero balance in the old BFA treasury, the new BFA treasury was created by the transfer of the life memberships of founders Don Piccard and Deke Sonnichsen from the SBSUSA to the BFA.

The first Annual Meeting was held May 25, 1968 at the Donald Rapp residence in Carmel, Indiana, after the completion of the third (and last, for many years) Indianapolis Speedway Balloon Race, finally under BFA sanction. There were 20-25 members in attendance. Elections and other business were conducted, including presentation of "Positive Pineapple" awards.

The second Annual Meeting was held November 8, 1969 at the Sheraton O'Hare Motel after the National Balloon Rally in Libertyville, Illinois. Eighteen members attended, and there were 37 ballots in the voting.

Our third Annual Meeting was held in August, 1970 at Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa, after the Iowa State Fair National Balloon Championships in Des Moines. There were about 35 members attending, with voting and normal business conducted. The Nationals and Annual Meetings returned to Simpson in 1971 and remained there until the late 1980s. Since then the Nationals has moved around to different states.

The Balloon Federation of America has grown and prospered over the years, as a volunteer organization providing the guidance, leadership, and member services desired by aeronauts in the United States.

In 1978 these words were written in the first Membership Handbook of the Balloon Federation of America.

"We are an organization dedicated to the advancement of sport ballooning and the promotion of ties among aeronauts the world over. Your membership in the BFA gives us additional strength and unity, and our growth will be dependent on your involvement and your contribution."

This is as true today as it was then.

Return to: FAQ