In more than 20 years as a hot air balloon ride operator, Doug Campbell has only had one customer who went up and quickly wanted to come back down to terra firma.
"Eight years ago we had an 80-year-old, 90-pound grandmother who didn’t want to do this," says Campbell, owner-operator of D&R Balloons, one of two full-time balloon ride companies in Southern Nevada. "During the pre-flight briefing we tell everyone that if they’d rather be on the ground than in the air, let us know. The balloon took off and wasn’t in the air 30 seconds before the balloon comes down. Grandma bounced out of the balloon, she couldn’t wait to get out. She grabbed the pilot’s shirt when they were 10 seconds in the air and said, ‘I want out of this (expletive) balloon.’ I tell that story at every briefing."
D&R Balloons, in operation since 1984, is the oldest hot air balloon company in Las Vegas.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Campbell got involved in ballooning in 1969 because his high school girlfriend’s father "was crewing for a balloonist, and I became part of the crew." He married his girlfriend in 1979 and has owned at least one balloon since he became a licensed pilot in 1984.
Currently, he owns five balloons holding from two to 12 people. The company’s oldest balloon is nine years old, Campbell says, and a 2003 model is the newest.
Four pilots are on staff, including Campbell’s son Doug Campbell II, who earned his license last year.
Campbell takes passengers up at 6:45 a.m. daily, and the flight ends at 8 a.m. before the air gets too turbulent.
"We have a perfect safety record," Campbell says. "Some companies only fly on weekends. But if you’re going in for brain surgery would you want a full-time surgeon or a part-time surgeon?"
Campbell mostly uses locations in the southwest part of the valley.
"We kick off from different locations depending on the wind direction. Most of the big open places where we land are going away. At the current rate of growth, we have four to six years where we can fly safely. We have to go where the wind blows us. In the next few years, it’s not going to be safe for going off and landing. … The growth here is absolutely nuts."
To inflate the balloon, Campbell says he needs an area of about 100 feet by 100 feet, and a large space to land. "When you get ready to land, how fast the wind is blowing affects the angle of landing."
D&R Balloons used to offer sunset flights, but the afternoon heat is "so unpredictable that we stopped doing them," Campbell says. Heat coming off the ground creates thermals in the air that can make for a very rocky ride.
"We were sending people home without a balloon ride," Campbell says. "It just wasn’t making money."
His company, which takes up 150 to 200 people per month at $195 per person, offers champagne and finger food flights.
For more information, call 248-7609.
Other companies offering balloon rides include Adventure Balloons (247-6905), Memory Makers Balloon Rides (682-5778), Nevada High, Inc. (873-8393), Soaring Adventures of America (222-2393), Las Vegas Balloon Rides (800-585-5555) and Las Vegas Hot Air Balloons (800-791-5867).