Balloons Over Vermilion: How the “Peg Leg Pete” balloon was born.

By Chicago 5 Min Read

DANVILLE — There’s nothing like spending some quiet time outdoors with your head in the clouds.

Just ask Mahomet balloon pilot Dave Reineke, who owns and flies his own “Peg Leg Pete the Pirate Parrot” balloon.

“Flying in a hot air balloon is like being on a moving platform. It’s peaceful and gentle for the most part,” said Reineke, who expects to make three appearances in her craft at the Balloons Over Vermilion event.

Its schedule includes two evening appearances during the Balloon Glow and a Saturday morning flight to the Rock Church on Poland Road where pilots drop bean bags at targets for prizes.

“I didn’t plan to fly; it’s optional for me” because it’s a specially shaped balloon, Reineke said. “I don’t know if we’ll make the morning flight, but we’ll see what we can accomplish.”

His wife, Kathy, who flies her own balloon (“Sunsational”), will participate in the Splash N Dash event.

The only uncertainty for the pilots is the wind. Wind speed should be around 8 miles per hour or less for safe flight.

“When we fly, we usually maintain an altitude of about 1,000 feet,” Reineke said. “It’s not as fun to climb higher because you can run into different wind speeds at different heights.”

Reineke said it takes as few as 10 to 12 people to get his big balloon going.

“We have friends and family who help us crew and we really appreciate the help from sponsors as well,” he said.

Once at an event, it takes about half an hour to unpack the balloon. In Reineke’s case, “the pouch, or fabric, weighs just 500 pounds to unpack, and then we have several Velcro doors that we have to put together under special seams,” he said. “There are several places where the air has to go out so it packs efficiently, so we have to take the Velcro doors and put them together. So when we take it off we have to open them again to let the air out and put the balloon back in its bag.

“It takes muscular work to achieve this.”

The layout and packaging are the hardest part, he said.

To begin, the balloon is supplied with cold air by fans. Once filled, the basket and burners are added until hot air fills the balloon enough for it to rise, but not take off. It is there that crew members help control the balloon before and during takeoff.

Reineke and his wife have been a part of the Balloons Over Vermilion event since its inception in 2016, and were also a part of its predecessor, the Balloon Classic. They have been invited and participated in various ballooning events around the world. They usually take their own special shaped parrot balloon, but sometimes they also bring their own regular shaped balloon for fun.

“Peg Leg Pete” was a ball that Reineke found.

“I dreamed of getting an engineer and a designer to design a balloon,” he said. “I went to a website and saw the artwork of an artist in Brazil who had this take on Pete, so I reached out and talked about it.”

Ten years later, he’s still flying it. Pete has approximately 160 operating hours. Most balloons can achieve 300 to 500 operational hours, he said.

Reineke first became interested in hot air balloons when she moved to Champaign and saw a Coca-Cola balloon at a festival. He contacted the pilot and became a member of a balloon club in 1978, becoming a licensed pilot in 1981.

He has owned three special shaped balloons, including “Mr. Potato Head” and “Bud E. Beaver”.

Husband and wife have won several ballooning awards. Kathy is a two-time winner of the Macomb Balloon Rally and Dave won the 2000 Peoria Balloon Festival. Both have over 1,000 flight hours.

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