Our Pilots

With over 15,700 hours of combined Hot Air Ballooning experience, the pilots of Balloons Above the Valley have been leaders in the hot air ballooning community. They are all FAA approved pilots and have dominated the skies in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Africa & Turkey. Dedicated and strong, they have gained a reputation as forerunners in Hot Air Ballooning, setting standards for others in safety, education and passenger service.

  • Bob Barbarick

    Bob Barbarick

    A native of the Napa Valley, Bob started flying balloons in 1977. He has extensive knowledge of the art of ballooning, with well over 6,800 hours of flying balloons. Whether it is riding the winds, scuba diving, flying his airplane, skiing or river rafting, Bob is a mild mannered adventurer. He works hard and is dedicated to keeping the balloon business safe, exciting and enjoyable for every passenger that flies with Balloons Above the Valley. His easy-going personality makes him your ideal guide when floating over the beautiful wine country.

  • JP Gagnon

    JP Gagnon

    J.P. has been with Balloons Above the Valley since 1999 when he moved to the Napa Valley to support his wife’s dream of running a Bed and Breakfast. We love men that support their wife’s dreams! He started his ballooning career in the Napa Valley and trained with some of the most experienced pilots available. J.P. is known as the “Jack of all trades” here at the company offering assistance in all areas of the business. In his off hours, J.P. can be found fishing anywhere he can. His smoked salmon is scrumptious!

  • Jeff Downes

    Jeff Downes

    Jeff has been in and around ballooning since the mid 90′s. Started as ground crew, afraid of heights, had NO interest in going up in a balloon, was tricked into his first flight, fell in love with the experience and has hence agreed with Leonardo da Vinci’s words “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” Jeff has flown in events in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Reno, Nevada, Phoenix, Arizona and has flown commercially in the Sonoma Valley for a number of years before coming “over the hill” to us in the Napa Valley. Jeff still does not like heights; however he says the awe of sharing the experience of a balloon flight is worth it. When not flying, Jeff enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, being out on his Harley, best of all – on a beach with a fruity umbrella cocktail!

  • Chelle Hughes

    Chelle Hughes

    Chelle Hughes fell in love with hot air ballooning in Kenya flying over the Serengeti plains. She is the only woman who has ever flown Amboseli in a hot air balloon which is located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. She is one of only a handful of women in the world who has earned her Kenyan piloting license.

    After flying nine years in Africa she has come home to the U.S.A. to be nearer to her family and continue her flying career with Balloons Above the Valley.

  • Russ Lucas

    Russ Lucas

    Russ started flying airplanes in 1991. By 1995 he had a commercial pilot, flight instructor, and instrument flight instructor certificates. He is able to fly single engine land and sea airplanes and multiengine land airplanes. In 1993 he began flying skydivers. In 1997 Russ made his first skydive and in 2002 he started working as a tandem skydiving instructor. After experiencing a skydive out of a hot air balloon, he purchased and started flying his first balloon in 2005. Russ went to Turkey in 2011. He spent 2 years there flying balloons, big balloons in an area of Turkey known as Cappadocia. In addition to his experience in aviation, Russ’ training as a teacher and work in quality control and quality management insure that your flight will be safe and entertaining.

  • Jacob Molnar

    Jacob Molnar

    Jacob has been around balloons all his life. He went for his first balloon ride when he was 6 months old, still in diapers! Jacob is a third generation Pilot that has grown up flying in the Napa Valley, he also has experience flying in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Arizona. He looks forward to sharing the beauty of the Napa Valley with the new friendly faces he meets everyday and giving them the best balloon ride they can imagine!
    When Jacob’s not in a balloon he can be found spending time with family, riding motorcycles, hiking, mountain biking or doing pretty much anything else you can imagine outdoors!

  • Rolando Solis

    Rolando Solis

    Rolando ‘Ro’ Solis born and raised in the Napa Valley, 3rd generation. Ro started ballooning in 1974. He became a pilot in 1984 and has embraced his passion of ballooning for 40 years now. Ro owns his own hot air balloon named Racer; you will find him attending balloon meets throughout the western states. He truly loves the sport and industry of ballooning.

  • Scott Carroll

    Scott Carroll

    Scott started ballooning in Phoenix, AZ in 1987, where he owned and operated his own balloon company for several years. He joined the Balloons Above the Valley team in 2008. Scott’s ballooning adventures have taken him from coast to coast where he has flown in numerous balloon events, most notably several years participating in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest event of its type in the world. Scott’s other avid interests include sailing which he began at an early age on Lake Michigan in Chicago. When Scott is not floating peacefully above the vineyards of Napa Valley, you can find him and his wife of 28 years sailing the waters of San Francisco bay aboard their sailboat Muzique.