Charlie Sundquist

Charles Sundquist

by Glen Moyer


The year was 1978, the place was Mountain Home, Idaho and Charlie Sundquist was flying in a balloon for the first time. By the time he would come back to earth (both figuratively and literally) his life would be changed forever.

“As soon as we landed I told Martha (his wife) ‘we have to sell something!’ so I could buy a balloon,” recalls Sundquist. That something turned out to be a classic Mercedes automobile he was restoring. The balloon would be named Martha’s Mink.

Almost two decades later Charlie Sundquist can look back on a career in ballooning filled with accomplishment. Among the items he points to with pride; more than 4,000 passengers carried aloft at the expense of only two band-aids, a dozen years serving his fellow pilots as an FAA Designated Examiner, and six years as the Western Region Director for the Balloon Federation of America.

Sundquist is the first to admit it; he is no wall flower. Indeed his career in this sport has been marked by his strong and often vocal support of important issues. As three time president of the Northwest Ballooning Association, Sundquist was instrumental in developing the first safety seminar for that region of the country.

“It became clear through the free exchange of ideas and experiences at these early seminars,” he recalls, “that we all did things then that today you could not make me do at the point of a gun. We just didn’t know any better. We didn’t know the risks we were exposing ourselves to until these seminars allowed us to share and comment on our common experiences.” To Sundquist, this heightened awareness and concern for safety is the most significant change he has seen in the sport, but not the only one.

After buying his first balloon in 1979, Sundquist was ready to take his commercial checkride. “It was a calm day and the FAA Inspector watched from the ground as I lifted off and floated about twenty feet-from one side of a pick-up truck to the other- whereupon I was certified as a commercial balloon pilot,” says Sundquist. This experience made him an advocate of another cause. “I felt quite simply that we should have FAA Inspectors who were balloon qualified,” he says. He would go on to support improvements in the designated examiner program, served as an examiner for twelve years and today is the BFA Board Liaison to the Designated Examiner Committee.

In 1990 Sundquist was elected to the BFA’s Board of Directors to represent the Western Region. “I wanted to focus more attention on ballooning in the West,” Sundquist says, feeling that too much of the BFA’s operation centered around the Great Lakes. He has since used every opportunity, usually committee positions, to promote active west coast aeronauts into the BFA structure. He has also tried to be a strong voice for the “weekend pilots” and as such was the driving force behind creation of the Events Evaluation committee.

Beginning his final year on the board, Sundquist is largely satisfied with his record, but says there is still much to do. “I’m still amazed and sometimes angered by the number of balloonists who do not belong to the BFA,” he says.

Looking to the future Sundquist sees hard times ahead for our sport. “It’s going to be critical that balloonists respond to the current Part 61 NPRM,” he says, “because if they don’t and the CFI comes about, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.” Sundquist once supported a LTA CFI rating but now feels improvements through the years in the commercial rating and examiner program have addressed any issues a CFI rating might have solved.

He also sees continuing legislative challenges to the sport. “As local jurisdictions become more informed, they want to impose more rules and regulations and more times than not, they get away with it.”

However, if the tone of this piece seems to suggest that Sundquist is in the opening bars of his swan song, don’t you believe it. “I plan to finish out my term on the board,” he says, “then take a year to relax, but I’ll be back. There are some committee positions and other areas where I still feel I can provide a positive influence.”

Regardless of what the future brings, Sundquist has the laurels to rest on, should he choose to do so. “But, I have this fear,” he says. “I would like to be remembered for the service I’ve given to the sport but somehow I think it will be my signature jumpsuits, somewhat boisterous nature, and that bumper sticker I authored that people will remember me for.”

Bumper sticker?, we asked.
“You know,” says Sundquist…
Please don’t tell Mom I’m a balloonist.
(She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse!)

Career Highlights

  • 1978-1st balloon ride
  • 1979-earned Commercial Certificate
  • 1983-elected to first of three terms as President of the Northwest Ballooning Association
  • 1990-elected BFA Western Region Director
    4,000+ passengers flown without incident
    FAA Designated Examiner
    Immediate Past Vice-President of BFA
    Organizer of 50+ balloon festivals
    Organizer of 1st safety seminar in northwest US

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