True Blue

Flying Under the <i>Lucky Star</i>

A family of balloonists are bound together by their high-flying pursuit.

A photo of a family smiling from inside their hot-air balloon. Other balloons surround them.
The crack Cannon balloon crew consists of (from left) William, Beverly, Melissa, Amy Spencer, Doug, and Rebekah. Photo by Bradley Slade.

The crickets still chirping at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Douglas E. (BS ’97, MBA ’99) and Beverly Malstrom Cannon (BS ’91, MA ’97) wake their four children, Amy, Rebekah (’22), Melissa (’26), and William. They hitch a trailer to their Suburban and hit the road. Soon they’re unloading a heavy basket, fuel, and a burner unit. Then from a large, black duffel bag come hundreds of yards of colored fabric—a hot-air balloon called the Lucky Star. Each person has a role, but they work as a team to inflate the balloon, do a weather and safety check, and give their clients a memorable experience. Hours later they chase the balloon, pack it up, and head home for a big breakfast.

Getting children up in the wee hours on a Saturday is unusual. But a family that has been doing it for years? Still, the Cannon clan’s balloon side business (Beverly is a math teacher and Doug is a reverse-mortgage loan officer) isn’t a sideshow at all; it’s how the family keeps close and connected. In fact, ballooning is what made the Cannons a family in the first place: Doug and Beverly’s first date was in a hot-air balloon, and the Lucky Star—which often serves couples getting engaged or renewing their vows—reminds them of the spark that still warms their hearts.

The Cannons’ kids are as tethered to their family stories as their basket is to its balloon, and they nod and laugh as their parents’ how-we-met narrative spills out: home-evening barbecue, Beverly vocalizing her disenchantment with dating, Doug besting Beverly (revered by her friends as “the Game Master”) in hearts, and the clincher—an invitation to go ballooning. Doug was a licensed commercial pilot, and Beverly demanded to see his license. Later, when he was up with a client, Beverly gathered some intel about Doug from the crew. “What you see is what you get,” they said.

“I had a dream to fly, and I wanted a better family life than I had growing up with my dad in the air force,” Doug says. “So we’ve combined those two things.” Just as the balloon has been key to the family’s success, the kids are crucial to the balloon’s success. “Our kids are so responsible, and I’d stack them up against any balloon crew in the country,” he says. Beverly agrees: “They’ve learned how to listen, work together, and take even the littlest jobs seriously. Because, if they don’t do their jobs, people could get hurt.”

A photo taken with a fish eye lens shows a man in a hot-air balloon.
Photo by Bradley Slade

Jobs with names like fan, throat, and crown line—all part of inflation—can be challenging: done incorrectly, the fabric can burn, the balloon can over-rotate, and the wind can knock the basket on top of someone. In all of it the kids are fully involved, a genuine team, proud of their work and safety record. They love what they do, and they love being part of the community of balloonists. “All the pilots at the [Freedom Festival] Balloon Fest are like crazy uncles,” says Melissa, a BYU freshman. “They’re awesome.”

Keeping people safe and happy requires pilots to understand physics and meteorology, to be mechanically savvy, to pay attention to detail, and have experience. Doug remembers a time in Vernal, Utah, in 1992 when the balloon was tied off to the Suburban, standard operating procedure. In the middle of inflation—a vulnerable point for the balloon—a weather event in some billowy white clouds 20 miles away brought in microburst gusts (also known as an overflow boundary). “My training kicked in. I had one crew member leaning on the basket, and, for safety, I pulled him into the basket headfirst. I tried to pull the parachute vent to let air out, but the first pulls caved the front of the balloon in, so it caught more wind and lifted the Suburban and trailer some six feet off the ground. We were moving towards some 100,000-volt power lines—big ones—when we finally got the vent open and laid the whole thing out.” Happily, no harm came to equipment, balloon, or crew.

Ballooning is fun, but it’s a great teacher too. The family agrees that ballooning has spiritual dimensions. “When you’re up in the air and looking down and see all of the little things—little people and tiny cars, you take a different, God-like perspective,” says Melissa. “You think, ‘Oh, maybe my problems aren’t that big.’ It’s so peaceful and calm, and you realize the world perhaps isn’t what you think it is.”

William, just beginning eighth grade, agrees. “I like the overwhelming peace. Even though you have only a few ropes holding you thousands of feet up, it feels so safe up there.”

For parents Beverly and Doug, involving their kids eclipses all. “I really love sharing special events with people—birthdays, engagements, bucket lists, or Make-A-Wish Foundation requests,” says Beverly, “but to share with my family in fulfilling people’s lifelong dreams, in making something momentous happen, is wonderful.” Doug’s favorite part is sharing what his family loves with others: “I love to see people happy—and to see our passengers’ joy in the happiness our family has with each other.”

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