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His Ride A seat or basket. A propane tank. A nylon balloon. Breath-taking views. It’s an experience Gary Palmer has enjoyed for four decades. Introduced to the world of ‘ballooning’ back when he was living in his native England, the Yankton man doesn’t turn down a chance to talk about his passion for the craft. He’ll tell you about the challenges, about the adventures and about how he loves teaching others how to fly. There’s a certain simplicity to it, he says. It’s a serene and quiet — aside from the noise of the tank — experience, but still an adventure filled with challenges, even for someone as experienced as Palmer. “I’ve never played golf, but I’m guessing it’s like golf,” says Palmer, who works in real estate. “Once someone picks up a golf club for the first time, they hit the ball and it goes anywhere it wants to go. “Ballooning is like that, too.” Palmer, who moved to Yankton 25 years ago, has owned two hot air balloons for many years. One was the traditional passenger-carrying variety, with a basket. But he sold that balloon to John Lillevold, a Yankton man who had been 8vHISVOICEvJANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 taking balloon flying lessons from Palmer. And so now, Palmer flies what is called a ‘Hopper.’ Unlike a traditional balloon with a basket, a ‘Hopper’ harkens back to the early days of ballooning: A person is strapped into a seat, with a tank behind them, and they wear a harness that is connected to the balloon above them. Balloons come in all shapes and sizes (as viewers of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade can attest), but the difficulties remain the same, Palmer says. “It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time,” he says. “You have this big bag of air and the only control you’ve got is to make it go up or down.” It’s a sport — or hobby — that counts South Dakota among its roots. Ed Yost, often referred to as the ‘father of modern hot-air ballooning,’ established Raven Industries in Sioux Falls in 1956. Four years later, he became the first person to fly a hot air balloon untethered to the ground during a flight in Nebraska.

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