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Brian | Laurie | Socrates | Dan | SteveS |SteveB | Patrick | Mark | Jim | Dave

Cincinnati/Dayton Balloon Ride Pilots

When your balloon ride experience matters.... check out Gentle Breeze Balloons!

Want to know our experience level?  Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Pilots and Flight Instructors flown average close to 2 decades per each pilot and represent a combined 250 years (yes, really!)  Want to measure that in Balloon Pilot Time?  Over 10,000 hours total Hot Air Balloon Piloting time.... that's over one year in the sky's above Cincinnati and Dayton surrounds!  

Brian Trapp

Balloon Pilot Brian 6

Brian began flying hot air balloons in 1980 when first introduced to the ballooning sport via his grandmothers’ balloon (she was 69 at the time) and flown in U.S., Canada, France, Scotland, England, Mexico and The Fiji Islands. Brian co-owns, operates and manages Ohio's sound hot air balloon ride company, Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company, Ltd. providing safe hot air balloon rides in Ohio including Cincinnati Ohio and Dayton Ohio. Brian continuously maintains hot-air balloon flying proficiency by flying balloons in and around Dayton Ohio as often as weather permits and never incurred any flight incidents, accidents, violations, citations. Amazingly, he has also held 90-day currency requirements, continuously since 1983. At this time, Brian piloted over 4900 lighter-than-air balloon flights, and administered over a hundred balloon flight exams/reviews.

Hot Air Ballooning highlights include:  

  • 1980 First Experience with Ballooning 
  • 1983 Earned US Private Pilot Certificate, Free Balloons, limited to balloons with airborne heater 
  • 1984 Earned US Commercial Pilot Certificate, Free Balloons, limited to balloons with airborne heater 
  • 1987 Began Repair Apprenticeship 
  • 1995 Obtained Air Agency Certificate: Hot Air Balloon Repair Station, limited airframe, balloons valid for hot-air balloon repair 
  • 2004 Appointed Designation as FAA Pilot Examiner,  
  • 2008 Ordained Minister; performing Balloon Weddings 
  • 2009 Earned Commercial Pilots License, Fiji Islands 
  • 2010 Earned Maintenance Authority, Balloons, Fiji Islands 
  • 2011 Added Airplane Single Engine Land to USA ratings 
  • 2014 Appointed to the Warren County Airport Authority Board - I68
  • 2016 Added Instrument Privileges for Airplanes to USA ratings
  • 2017 Added Commercial Airplanes to USA ratings.

Awards and Recognitions:

  • 5-time Grand Champion 1988, 1990 (with record score), 1992, 2007 and 2008 Mountaineer Balloon Fest, Morgantown, WV. 
  • Winner, 2007 Kentucky Derby Balloon Fest, Louisville, KY with the 3rd best score in its 35 year history. 
  • Finished 4th place of 1000 balloons in ALB Balloon Fiesta, October 2000, rookie year. 
  • Flown several countries, including US, Canada, France, Scotland, England, Mexico, Australia, Fiji Islands.  
  • FAA Authorized Designated Pilot Examiner, serving Southwestern Ohio, Central Ohio & Central and Southern Indiana, Eastern Missouri, Central Pennsylvania.

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Laurie Givin

balloon Ride Pilot Laurie 4

Laurie Givin (Senior Pilot) For Laurie, it all began when Laurie and her mother would attend the local rallies in Lancaster, PA in the early 80’s. Laurie contacted the local balloon company to crew and learn the ropes before committing to the training of becoming a pilot. This was in the fall of 1984, and by 1986, Laurie was commercially licensed with 36 logged hours. She loved to fly and she was not satisfied until purchasing her first balloon in 1988. It was a Thunder from England, and Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Co. was born. By the end of 2013, Laurie would have piloted over 1900 lighter-than-air flights. Her pilot experience ranges from a 24,000 cf Lindstrand cloud hopper to a 140 cf Aerostar passenger balloon. Highlights over the past years include working & sewing balloons in the repair shop of Jim Willauer, Lancaster PA in the early years and currently with Brian Trapp. The big plunge was taken in the year of 2003. This is when ballooning became a full time profession. In the spring of 2009, Gentle Breeze remodeled one of the hangars for a much needed larger office and now calls home at the Warren County Airport-John Lane Memorial Field. Not only flying in other states, Laurie has had the privileges of flying in other countries such as Canada, Scotland / England and the Fiji Islands. Although not a big competitor she has won 2004 & 2005 Mountaineer Balloon Fest, Morgantown WV and one of the individual races at the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, Readington NJ.

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Socrates Rettos - R. I. P.


Sadly, on February 27, 2017, we lost our beloved and ace pilot, Socrates Rettos.  While a Hot Air Balloon Pilot, his primary job as Director of Print Quality at Cincinnati based Phototype outlined a profound loss for our respective organizations.  Socrates Rettos passed away after a battle with esophageal cancer. "Soc" was not only a thought leader in our industry but a passionate supporter of the print and packaging industry. He poured his heart and soul into his work, his clients and his friends and family... He is survived by his wife and his two daughters who were at his side when he passed away peacefully.

Press release found here 

Socrates Rettos – Senior Pilot, Ride Balloons.  Socrates represented one of the few pilots certified, qualified and trained to handle our largest hot air balloon, Tiny.  The rare, large-ride balloon endorsement allows him to navigate the Ohio Skies safely in southwestern Ohio’s ride-designed hot air balloon. 

Introduced to hot air ballooning around Cincinnati Ohio as a Balloon Federation of America (BFA) “Observer” in 1984, Socrates exemplifies an old cliché amongst balloon owners:  that cliché states “your first flight is usually cheap while your second flight costs you tens of thousands of dollars, because you bought one…”. Yep, he bought one. Well, technically he’s purchased at least two Cincinnati Ohio Balloons.

Residing in Ohio, Socrates first balloon purchase occurred in 1993.  He earned a hot air balloon pilot certificate with private privileges.  Though the 1990s, he upgraded his pilot certificate to commercial level pilot privileges.   Going above and beyond the federal aviation guidelines (FAA), he sought and obtained advanced training in large ride balloons. 

Large hot-air Ride-Balloon training remains optional within the United States laws, however Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company, Ltd. instills rigorous training common in other countries. In addition regular commercial hot air balloon flights in the Greater Cincinnati / Greater Dayton areas, Socrates frequently participated in balloon events across the Midwest.  He flew hot-air balloons in largest balloon event on the east coast, the QuickChek Balloon Festival in Readington, NJ as well as the largest balloon festival on the planet, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM.  Both Albuquerque and Readington, offered Socrates the invitation to navigate our large ride balloons in congested airspace with poise. 

Socrates maintained memberships in these flight related organizations: The Balloon Federation of America (BFA), the BFA Competition Division, the BFA Professional Ride Operators Division and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

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Jim Knepper

Balloon Ride Pilot Jim 1

Jim Knepper (Facebook Czar & Pilot) Jim began flying in 1987, has been a Commercial Balloon Pilot since 1990 and has over 700 hours of flight time. He was born in Erie, PA and he is a USN Vietnam Veteran serving two tours in Danang. Upon graduating from Penn State University in 1972, he moved to Cincinnati after being recruited by Procter and Gamble. He retired in 2002, after 30 years, as a Design Manager. As well as flying balloons, he enjoys traveling, SCUBA diving and is an Alpine ski instructor during the winter at Perfect North Slopes. He has been flying with Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company for over 10 years.

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Dan Keith


Dan Keith (Senior Pilot) Dan flies regularly for Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Rides featuring Cincinnati Ohio Balloon Rides.  Dan's initial Hot Air Balloon Pilot training received by a nationally respected Pilot/Instructor over 3 decades ago!  Dan flown Cincinnati balloon rides commercially for over 30 years and accumulated several hundreds of pilot-in-command hours.  He is quick to say:  "I love hot air ballooning as much now as the day I started."  Dan's balloon pilot experiences range from the smallest to the largest balloons found in Ohio.  Specifically, Dayton and Cincinnati balloon rides feature the one-man balloon, as small as 25,000 cu. ft. to the largest of the large, a whopping 210,000 cu. ft. hot air balloon.  Normally you will find him flying 90,000 cubic foot balloons to 210,000 behemoths. Flying never gets old as his enthusiasm is renewed by the joy in the faces of every passenger.

Enjoy your Dayton suburbs hot air balloon ride including Centerville, Miamisburg, Bellbrook, Springboro and Oakwood with our featured Ohio Balloon Ride Pilot, Dan Keith!

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Steve Searles

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Steve Cincinnati Ohio

Steve Searles (Professional Stunt Pilot).  Steve flies regularly for Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Rides featuring Cincinnati Ohio Balloon Rides.

Steve experience outside his professional life in the IT world ranks up there as a highly skilled Commercial Pilot and Balloon Flight instructor, beginning in 1999 at the age of 19.  Steve trained for his hot air balloon rating after introduction to the sport by a close personal friend and fellow Cincinnati balloon pilot.  Steve earned his commercial lighter than air, hot air balloon pilot certificate in early 2003. And earned a fixed wing (airplane) rating the following year.  

While Steve entertained Dayton Ohio passengers for over 14 years with Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company, his flying forte' reaches to the commercial and advertising balloons frequently found around Cincinnati Ohio as well.  Steve's reputation amongst aerial balloon advertising in Ohio remains unsurpassed with a successful, accident-free promotional flights.  In addition to flying, he enjoys his time at the lake, jet skiing, boating, alpine skiing, traveling, and being a comedian.

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Steve Bond


Steve Bond (Professional, International Pilot) Steve flies regularly for Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Rides featuring Cincinnati Ohio Balloon Rides. Steve’s ballooning career started in 1986 with a balloon flight in West Virginia after a friend and fellow pilot offered him a ride.  Steve kept after his friend to fly until his friend not only suggested that Steve get his ballooning certificate, he offered to sell Steve a balloon system and training to get him started. 

Steve earned his commercial hot air balloon pilot rating in 1988 and never looked back!  During much of the 1990’s, Steve flew hot air balloons primarily competitively on the East coast of the United States and collected several top ten finishes over the years. Top balloon competition finishes include winning the key grab two years in a row at the Freedom Weekend Aloft in South Carolina, a task not easily completed once and never before completed back to back finishes.  In 1998, Steve opened the door to the world of international ballooning by accepting a professional balloon pilot job flying hot air over the Masai Mara in Kenya. Flying abroad provided a multitude of hot air ballooning experience including the ability to pilot balloons of up-to 400,000 cu. ft. How big is a 400,000 cu. ft hot air balloon?  It's an eighteen passenger balloon, largest available commercial hot air balloon at that time and not common in the United States due to regulations.  Later, Steve went the other extreme and flew an experimental balloon of only 44,000 cubic feet and one passenger in an event that took him across the country of Portugal.  Steve has commercial hot air balloon pilot’s ratings in three countries:  Kenya, Fiji and the United States and he has piloted in Portugal, France, Canada and Scotland.  

Steve continues to enjoy sharing the art of ballooning experience with others, whether they are first time passengers or student pilots wanting to gain time and experience to hone in their piloting skills. Steve often states that ‘ballooning has taken this hillbilly farther than I could have ever imagined that it would.

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Patrick Hollenbeck


Patrick Hollenbeck started with Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company years ago when seeking his Lighter-Than-Air Balloon Class add-on rating to his existing Pilots license. He earned his Private then Commercial balloon piloting privileges governed by the FAA, including Ohio Balloon Flight Instructor authorizations.

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Mark Wiesmann

Mark Wiesmann, FAA Commercial Pilot, Lighter Than Air. Mark's involvement in professional hot air ballooning started when Mark rode his first balloon ride as a gift from his lovely wife, Vickie. The joke amongst balloonist states that your first ride is the cheapest, and certainly found that to be true as Mark fell in love with Cincinnati hot air ballooning. Soon after, Mark purchased his first balloon, started to pursuing his hot air ballooning rated Private as well as Commercial certificates. Certified by the FAA, Mark also serves as an Instructor for Hot Air Balloons in and around the Dayton Ohio area. His passion shines as he really enjoys flying and volunteering for Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company and watching the excitement on the faces of the people encountered. Mark feels very fortunate to be able to share the sport of ballooning and the thrill of flight from an Ohio Hot Air Balloon. Come fly with us and make memories that will last for a lifetime!

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Dave Conrad

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Dave Dayton Ohio 3

Dave Conrad's career as a professional aviator encompasses over 14,850 hours of flight time in many different aircraft, the equivalent of one year and eight months in the air!  He flew hang gliders in college, graduated to airplanes in 1976, and got his first balloon in 1979. He holds an Airline Transport Pilot license and flew worldwide for a large soap company in Cincinnati retiring as a Senior Captain after 30 years of service in 2014. He is certified to fly: airplanes (multiengine land and sea, single engine land and sea), gliders, hot air balloons, and weight shift control (Trikes). He instructs in Hot-Air Balloons as well as airplanes and gliders, and holds a Light Sport Aircraft Repairman certificate. Dave owns an airplane, hot air balloon, trike, and a powered paraglider (ultralight). Dave is interested in promoting aviation safety, and sharing the gift of flight with others. He is currently working toward his helicopter rating!

Dave feels privileged to be able to serve as a balloon ride pilot for Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company around the Cincinnati or Dayton Ohio area!

Organizational Memberships; Balloon Federation of America, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, Soaring Society of America, United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

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Interested in becoming an Experienced Ohio Hot Air Balloon Pilot? Learn here!

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