From 1,000 Feet - Growing Up in The Sky
By Kristie Darling
Meet Drew + Taylor Egerton - Air-Olina Aviation
Drew Egerton is a second-generation hot air balloon pilot with an extraordinary resume. He was born into this sport! Buck and Louise Egerton introduced their son to ballooning when he was a year old. “Mom had a friend that couldn’t stop talking about how cool ballooning was, so they went with her to Freedom Weekend Aloft in 1986 to help crew,” Drew remembers. “Shortly after, they started taking lessons. My first experience was a balloon tether—my first real flight was with my dad when I was four. At our house, it was just a normal thing. My kindergarten teacher said I had an interesting imagination, telling stories of funny-shaped balloons but those stories were all real! Through high school and college, I focused on music, cars, and girls…didn't start training ‘til I graduated college in 2007.” Interestingly, Drew’s favorite flight of all was just a couple years ago, taking his four-year-old son, Lucas, on his first flight…just like years before with his dad! Drew’s parents have been flying in the North Carolina mountains for almost 40 years.
Highly Accomplished Among the Clouds
Nationwide, Drew has made an impressive name for himself in the ballooning community. This year, he was recognized by the Balloon Federation of America’s Pilot Achievement Program—Prominent Aeronaut, Level 7. Locally, he’s one of the most involved pilots in local, regional, and national professional organizations—his CV includes ten such entries, from board member/secretary of the Balloon Federation of America, BFA Competition Division board member, to editor/writer of BFA publications, VP of Carolinas’ Balloon Association, and other committee memberships.
His resume also lists well over 650 hours piloting balloons ranging from AX-4 (very small) to AX-10 (very large); 100 hours giving instruction; serving as assistant director at the Great Lakes Regional Championship; and assistant safety officer at Carolina BalloonFest. It didn’t take Drew long to accumulate eight first place awards at events from Pennsylvania to Georgia, a sixth-place award in TX, and NC State Champion in five out of the last nine years. Drew’s got skills!
Making Judgement Calls Drew’s success stems from his awareness that pilot decision making is key. “It starts before the flight begins, deciding if the weather is safe and where to take off,” Drew says. “Each flight, we probably make 2,000 decisions. No two flights are the same, and we’re never 100% sure where we’ll end up—every decision has a huge impact on the outcome. You’re not going be a great pilot without good decision-making skills.”
Helping Beyond the Fear You wouldn’t think Drew’s afraid of heights, but he is. Despite that, he gets excited every time he takes first-timers flying or when he’s engrossed in competition. “I love how diverse flying can be. Checking off someone’s bucket list is cool, and training a new pilot is awesome, especially someone who’s volunteered or crewed for others, and they just need me to help them realize this dream,” Drew shared. “I’ve helped some local pilots achieve that—it’s very rewarding.” Drew was recently recognized by the National Association of Flight Instructors as an Elite Balloon Instructor.
The Rush of Competing
Competition provides an adrenaline rush that’s different. Drew’s competed seriously for 10 years, about six races year, and flown in six national championships, finishing sixth two times. “The feeling I get lining up perfectly on a target and making a good score is incredible. It validates all the hard work I’ve put in to get where I’m at. Living in Statesville, I'm honored to be a three-time Carolina BalloonFest champion!” Recently, Drew won the Helen to the Atlantic race in Helen, GA. Balloon competitions are usually about hitting a target, but Helen is about flying the furthest distance over two days. “Good landing places are scarce. It was a planning and flying challenge to make sure we found some. After two flights, we went about 65 miles.”
Sweethearts Flying to New Heights Together Drew and his crew chief and wife, Taylor - a certified balloon pilot herself - own and operate Statesville’s newest ride business, Air-Olina Aviation. “With our brand-new balloon, Hot and Heavy—because it is!—we’ll join the other great ride operators. We’re all good friends, and we fly together often,” Taylor explained. “It's an expensive hobby, so offsetting the costs will help. Drew probably won't be quitting his “real job" as an engineer at Doosan, though!”