Midwest Balloon Rides Is a Sandlin Family Affair
Writer: Josh Brown
Photographer: Brian Brosmer
Tony Sandlin knows a thing or two about hot air balloons.
Sandlin, owner of Midwest Balloon Rides, first got involved in ballooning in 1989 after answering a newspaper ad looking for people to join a hot air balloon crew. From there, the passion took off.
Ballooning is far from a cheap hobby, though. More than a decade went by as Sandlin purchased and sold balloons of his own, all while dedicating a majority of his time and effort into becoming a private pilot in 2002 and, finally, a commercial hot air balloon pilot in 2005.
The first time he took to the sky on his own, he knew he was hooked.
“It is quite the experience,” Sandlin says. “The first flight that I did solo, I flew from Fishers over to Westfield. The first flight that I got to fly a passenger, we went from Noblesville and flew right behind Conner Prairie while Symphony on the Prairie was going on. I still remember that flight. It is so quiet up there.”
Despite logging so many hours and flights over the years, Sandlin says each trip is still memorable and exhilarating.
“It is still awesome every time,” he says. “Every flight is different. Generally, we take off in similar locations, but we have 40 different spots in Hamilton County that we take off from depending on which way the winds are going. We very seldom land in the same place twice, though. Every flight is truly unique.”
Sandlin started Midwest Balloon Rides in 2002 as a part-time side hobby, but in 2011 he dived into the business full time. Since then, he says, the community response in the Hamilton County area has been tremendous.
“People love hot air balloons,” Sandlin says. “They love seeing them in the air and seeing them take off. We mainly fly in the Hamilton County area and most people are great about it. The community response has been great.”
Sandlin has even had the opportunity to take several local celebrities up in his balloons — creating some memorable moments. One year, Sandlin took, now Vice President, Mike Pence and his family up for a ride.
“We took off at Hamilton Town Center and flew over Saxony, and he must have taken about 400 hundred pictures,” Sandlin recalls. “He acted like he was fine and had a great time. I saw him about a year later and I said, ‘hey, Mike, you ready to go up again?’ He said, “Tony, I enjoyed the flight, but I will never do that again. I just do not like heights.’
“I’ve taken the Smiley Morning Show, WZPL, crew up as well,” Sandlin adds. “It was for Davey Smiley’s 40th birthday, and they did the show up in the air with me.”
Midwest Balloon Rides now has many balloons in its hanger — one that carries six people, three that carry four people, a balloon that carries two people and a smaller one used for school programs. What sets Midwest Balloon rides apart is its door baskets.
“Door baskets became popular about four or five years ago, and I have one of the first ones,” Sandlin says. “I also have one of the only balloons with a door basket that can take up wheelchairs. We have a special harness system, and that makes it really accessible for those people who wouldn’t be able to ride otherwise.”
Sandlin was born and raised in Indianapolis and has lived in Fishers with his wife Gail and their three boys since 1999. He has seen Fishers change in some dramatic ways in nearly 20 years of living in the city.
“We have seen a lot of changes here,” he says. “I am a member of Launch Fishers, that is where my office is. The growth of the city has been amazing. For me, it is a convenience thing too, I can get anywhere from Fishers within 30 minutes. It really is a great place to live.”
The hot air balloon business is a family affair for the Sandlins, too. Sandlin’s youngest boy, Will, is 12 and already learning to fly with hopes of taking a solo flight by the age of 14. His oldest son, Taylon, is 27 and also a commercial balloon pilot who flies with Midwest Balloons, and Bailey, 24, is working on obtaining his balloon license.
For those who may have fears of flying because of heights or safety concerns, Sandlin says not to worry.
“As far as safety goes, we have canceled more flights than we flew last year because of the weather,” he says. “We are extremely conservative when it comes to the weather. It can be too foggy, too windy. It could be a perfect weather day on the ground, but there is so much more that goes into it. We don’t fly if there is rain within 50 miles, and we don’t fly if there are storms within 75 miles.
“I always tell people before we go up for a ride, ‘don’t look down, look out.’ That is the trick. If you do that, you won’t notice quite how high you are. People are usually fine after the first five minutes.”
For more information on scheduling and pricing, visit Midwest Balloon Rides online at midwestballoonrides.com or give them a call at 317-863-0318.