Fuquay-Varina, N.C. — Nearly 40 balloons are participating in the WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest. About a dozen of those were built in a factory in western North Carolina, but one balloon has a more unique creation that the pilot describes as a labor of love.
Pilot Phillip MacNutt knows every inch of his hot air balloon because he builds them himself at home in his garage.
“I started building in 1994. This system here was built in ’94. The whole thing is meant to make it fun and easier to work with. You don’t need a full crew,” MacNutt said.
Something that’s simple and easy is not what one might expect from a professional engineer whose real job focuses on robotic systems.
“A system like this I can set up by myself, fly and pack it up by myself,” MacNutt said of his balloon. “It just makes everything easier, more fun.”
MacNutt flies under a special FAA experimental-homemade license and he doesn’t do commercial flights with passengers. He flies for the joy of it and builds his balloons for the same reason.
“There’s a satisfaction of building something yourself because it’s quite a process,” he said.
It’s a process, he says, that is probably not for the faint of heart.
“There’s also anxiety. You spend months putting the whole thing together, you have no idea if you did it right until you put air in the first time. One decimal point off and the whole thing looks wrong,” MacNutt said.
Building techniques haven’t really changed much over the years. MacNutt uses a half-century old Singer sewing machine to stich his creations together.
“I had never sewn anything in my life. All you’re doing is sewing long, straight seams-80 foot seams- over and over again. It’s really not that difficult,” he said.
The self-made man hopes homemade balloons will inspire and allow the creator inside everybody to soar to new heights.
“Anybody can do it. Anybody- young, old- with the motivation and desire and a little bit of money can do it. You just need time and motivation and effort and anybody can do it,” MacNutt said.
MacNutt won the Saturday ring toss competition at the festival, where pilots must fly their balloons close to a target and toss a ring around a pole.