When David Woods saw a hot air balloon rising in the sky, he was inspired. He sold his backhoe, bought his own balloon, and began taking lessons with local pilot and WLOS13 weatherman, Bill Norwood. It wasn’t long before David’s wife Erma followed him into pilothood, getting Mt. Pisgah Hot Air Balloons off the ground and sparking an exceptional family tradition. Both David and Erma were FAA certified hot air balloon repairmen. Erma was one of the first women to earn this certification. In their twenty-one-year career, the pair entertained thousands of visitors and locals, flew in festivals all over the country, and even traveled to France to fly in the prestigious Forbes hot air balloon rally commemorating the Montgolfier brothers, inventors of the hot air balloon.
Flying in the Asheville area is not like flying anywhere else. It demands intimate knowledge of the terrain and the capricious orographic, or mountain, winds. David had a knack for mastering these subtle cues, winning local competitions with a combination of skill and intuition. David and Erma were featured in National Geographic magazine and, much to their grandson Addison’s surprise, showed up in his second-grade science textbook. David and Erma were true pioneers of the air and the first in the region to share the thrill of ballooning with passengers.
David and Erma’s daughter Rowena began flying in 1985 under the tutelage of her parents and the renowned balloonist Don Kline, receiving her commercial license in 1987. Rowena owned and operated a successful balloon ride business in the Piedmont of North Carolina from 1986 until 2006, when she retired from ownership to open a yoga studio. At the end of her career, she had spent two thousand hours above the earth and given thousands of passengers the experience of a lifetime.
Since childhood, company owner and chief pilot Addison has been immersed in a daily routine unlike any other: making flight decisions, observing weather conditions, and reading maps and the skies. He got his student pilot’s license when he was fifteen, and it was in 2003 that he really got bit by the balloon bug (watch out for that on your flight!), prompting him to return to school for his private license.
Never far from all things that float, Addison ran his family’s advertising business, installing inflatables and searchlights. But in December 2008, he decided to return to flying, and sold the business. Rowena had kept one of her balloons after retirement, so Addison purchased it from her and R.O. Franks, named for his great-grandfather, was born. The company has grown every year since, and R.O. Franks is proud to introduce our latest addition to the fleet, the newest and largest balloon in the state, "the Dragon”. Manufactured by Cameron Balloons, the company that made the balloon which circumnavigated the world, “the Dragon” will heft twelve to fourteen passengers with ease.
High above our heads rolls a vast ocean of air. Every morning the pilots at R.O. Franks embark upward in pursuit of the mastery of flight. Our love of the sky leads us to embrace the elements, navigate the intricacies of aeronautics, and challenge ourselves to greater heights. Somewhere up there, we realized: everyone should get to feel this. It is with pride and excitement that we invite you on a true escape, up to a place where you are free to joke, laugh, celebrate, and observe the Blue Ridge Mountains from a whole new angle. Drop your burdens, elevate your spirits – R.O. Franks is at the helm.
Pilôt Extraordinaire: At the helm of R.O. Franks Hot Air Balloon Company is Chief Aeronaut R. Addison M. Brown, third generation FAA certified pilot with seventeen years of piloting experience and an entire lifetime of seeing the world in miniature from high above the ground. If saying “Chief Aeronaut R. Addison M. Brown” seems daunting, then you may choose any of the following nicknames and titles: Commander Addison Brown, Sky Engineer Brown, Air Addison, or Balloon Man Brown.
As a child, Michelle sometimes saw hot air balloons from her dairy farm in Wisconsin, but she never imagined she’d be the anchor of the R.O. Franks team, with a hand in everything from infrastructure decisions and management, to cooking breakfast for the crew. She comes from a family business tradition, and is a registered nurse by trade, so she’s prepared for the adventures each day brings. When Michelle first met Addison at his birthday party, she didn’t believe he was really a hot air balloon pilot… until he picked her up for their first date in the company van! She and Addison married June 25th, 2011 and they are expecting their first son, May 1st, 2012.
Rowena has two decades of diligence, consistency, and unparalleled piloting prowess behind her, as well as FAA certification. She has logged thousands hours of flight time and ran her own passenger hot air balloon company for twenty years.
A pilot is only as good as his or her crew, and we are pleased to have some of the most talented crewmembers around. Being on crew requires tenacious adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances. They are masters of deduction, navigation and triangulation, handling logistics in real time while reading maps, trekking narrow roads, and keeping up with pilots via radio. All this adds up to making sure you have a ride home from wherever Commander Brown decides to land!
When Jon Paul (JP) Hess isn’t tracking balloons, he’s touring with Stewart Sound as light director. He’s also a member of half a dozen regional bands. He has been with R.O. Franks from the beginning, and is our #1 mustachioed crew member.
Joe Chang is a local filmmaker, producer, and director. You may know him from such award winning films as “Neutral”, “Passenger Pigeons”, and video music productions for his band Kovacs and the Polar Bear”. He’s been chasing balloons for about a year, and is our finest crew member with an inscrutable mustache.
Jackson Fields is our crew member who dons a Daniel Day Lewis mustache of the highest caliber. He is our newest addition and the scheduling liaison. When you call to make a reservation, it’s his voice you will likely hear.