Lift Off: Indy Hot Air Balloon Business Is a Family Affair For Local Couple
Writer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
From a young age, Jack Semler was enamored with all things aviation. The Purdue graduate is certified to fly planes, helicopters and gliders and became a pilot with FedEx right out of college. But there was one certification he dreamed of earning and that was to fly hot air balloons.
Jack recalled seeing the Indiana State Fair balloon race and becoming so fascinated with the whole idea that he wrote to every U. S. balloon manufacturer. He remembers getting the brochures in the mail and hanging on them well into adulthood. His first ride in a hot air balloon occurred on the very same day as his wife Lynn, when they had their first date in Napa Valley, California and he fell in love with both Lynn and ballooning.
The couple married, started their family, Jack promoted to Captain and that still small voice kept luring him to look into ballooning. Fifteen years later, he was in a simulator teaching for FedEx as one of the company’s examiner’s when he asked the first officer what he liked to do for fun and he said, sail and fly hot air balloons. That turned into a 12-year friendship. The first officer introduced him to ballooning, gave him lessons and helped him get his license and it all took off from there.
The couple had just built their home in Westfield when Jack came home one day and told his wife, “I just bought a hot air balloon.”
“Lynn had been encouraging me and said, ‘You have always had the dream and now you are doing it,’” Jack says.
So Lynn named the balloon “Chasing Dreams.” With the youngest of their four children still in diapers, Jack earned his commercial license and started giving rides. But he realized that, while the rides were fun, they took a lot of his family time away.
The couple broadened their scope and began looking into “Shape Balloons” and that is how they ended up with Oggy the Friendly Dragon, a 143-foot tall balloon that stands about 12 stories high is one of the tallest balloons in the world with the fabric weighing in at 900 pounds, Smiley Scarecrow, the 120-foot tall bright yellow shape with fabric weighing in at 700 pounds and One Eyed Jack the 85-foot tall friendly monster shape weighing in at 400 pounds. The Semler’s were able to turn their hobby into a business.
From the start, the entire family has been involved. All four Semler children have been crewing since they were in grade school. Lynn is responsible for scheduling appearances at balloon festivals nationally and internationally and secures the corporate sponsorships. Jack is, of course, the pilot.
“The neat thing is we get to go to these small-town festivals around the country and these small towns open their hearts to us, and we have made life-long friends with a lot of these people,” Jack says. “As a pilot with FedEx for more than two decades, I have seniority, so I am able to schedule around our balloon festivals, and we are able to travel to these amazing festivals as a family.”
At the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, there are 700 balloons from all over the world from places like Brazil, Mexico and Thailand, which their children have had the opportunity to not only crew but they have met many families from all over the world.
This year, they will be traveling to Colorado Springs for the Lift Off Event which is near the Air Force Academy.
The family and their exotic balloons have traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico four or five times, Alabama, New Orleans and all over the Midwest. Nearly two years ago, Oggy the Dragon and Smiley the Scarecrow were flown to the Philippine’s and the Manilla Balloon Festival committee paid for them to fly over Clark Air Force Base for five days.
After flying for 18 years for FedEx in Asia, Jack was able to take Lynn around the country to the places he had visited. This sealed their interest in participating in international balloon festivals. The couple will be flying to Thailand in December of this year and are in negotiations with events in New Zealand and England.
Perhaps one of Jack’s favorite things is sharing his passion for ballooning, and he loves flying the balloons low so that he can interact with the people below.
Jack and Lynn have given their children experiences of a lifetime, but they have given themselves a passion and, with it, more dreams to chase.
“Our passion has grown into a family business and we are having a great time seeing the country and the world,” Jack says. “I tell my kids all the time, don’t get a job, have a passion and love what you do. It just makes life so much easier.”
For information about Indy Hot Air visit indyhotair.com or give them a call at 317-374-3538.