By: Jackson Valls There’s a very recognizable stagecoach taking to the skies. Well, it’s not as much horse powered as it is propane fueled. Ron Sanchez is the pilot of the iconic “Cent’r Stage”, a peculiar hybrid of aircraft and vehicle that is sure to grab the viewer’s attention. It is perhaps one of the biggest advertisements, in cubic feet squared, to exist. “I got my first balloon ride when I was 11 years old. I was instantly hooked! The next year my relatives bought a balloon and I have been involved (ever) since. I have been in ballooning for 38 years.” He’s been flying for Wells Fargo since 2013, only a decade after receiving his pilot’s license. One has to wonder if it is more difficult to fly a stagecoach than a regular balloon. In the ballooning community there is an important distinction between hot air balloon: special shapes and competition balloons. Special shapes are pretty self-explanatory, anything that resembles something other than the traditional image of a balloon. Competition balloons are as aerodynamic as possible, often much smaller, so that the pilots have an easier time changing direction with the winds. Piloting the Wells Fargo balloon seems no easy feat. Different edges, the large size and shape of the craft are all factors Ron must manage. “There are a lot more variables flying special shape balloons. Weather, they require larger landing spaces, number of required ground crew, fuel consumption.” Believe it or not, special shapes don’t require specific training or
certificates, “It is more familiarization training than anything. Finding out the unique characteristics of each different balloon.” Wells Fargo hires many volunteers to help with their fleet of balloons, but only the pilots are paid. And with good reason, too. Wells Fargo has admitted that a number of customers from all over the United States mention their flying stagecoach. Their fleet includes two competition balloons and of course, the flying stagecoach, Cent’r Stage. They in fact have their own department to manage the balloon service and are one of the oldest corporate sponsored balloon companies in America. The pilots of this fleet are chosen by their experience and corporate ballooning history. This makes Sanchez quite qualified for the position. “I have over 1200 flight hours in different sizes of balloons. I have flown balloons ranging in size from 54,000 cubic feet to 310,000 cubic feet. I am also an Assistant Chief Instructor at a Part 141 flight school in Albuquerque, NM. I have taught people from as far away as Kenya how to fly hot air balloons.” For those interested in spectating, “Cent’r Stage,” The stagecoach makes appearances in a handful of places around the country each year. Notably at Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico and, soon, Old West Balloon Fest for both night glows and both morning launces at Mitchell airfield. Sanchez also enjoys flying in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Reno, Nevada; Lake Havasu City, Arizona; and Park City, Utah where it can also be viewed. Wells Fargo has captured the awe of children and adults alike, may it continue for years to come.