History & Facts
The Smokey Bear Balloon was built and sent aloft by a unique public/private partnership of volunteers, private sponsors, National Association of State Foresters (NASF), and the US Forest Service (USFS). The Friends of the Smokey Bear Balloon, Inc., is the sole licensee for use of the Smokey Bear image in balloon form and for selling related balloon products. It took two decades of dreaming before the Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon, Inc., could build and fly the 145,000 cubic foot, 97-foot tall special shape Aerostar hot-air balloon.
October 1993 - Smokey Hot Air Balloon's first public voyage, at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. In its first full year aloft, the dream became a reality. The Smokey Bear Balloon appeared in five dozen balloon and forestry educational events across America and Canada, captivating and educating through the thrill of being close-up to a hot-air balloon.
In a spectacular display of corporate support, the Smokey Bear Balloon lifted aloft over Walt Disney World, Florida, as the first non-Disney balloon allowed to fly above that family enterprise.
March 1996, and in September 2000 - Two 25-feet, cold air static Smokey balloons are built. Called "Little Smokeys" they do not fly like the "Hot Air Smokey" does. Instead, their mission is to be a static display, stationary on the ground to attract visitors to the trailer for fire prevention education and promotional items.
March 2000 - The Antique Fire Truck is donated. It takes a while to get it modified into a chase vehicle and operational.
August 2000 - The Friends of the Smokey Bear Balloon website is created.
2003 and in 2004 - Two 7-foot cold air Smokey were added.
October 2004 - At the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta the Smokey Bear Hot Air balloon snaggs on a radio tower and the three occupants of the basket had to climb down 600 feet to safety.
2005 - Through generous donations from the public and partners, a second Smokey Hot Air Balloon is built.
February 2012 - William "Bill" Chapel, founder and inspiration for the Smokey Bear Balloon, steps down as Chief Pilot, a position he has held since the Smokey Bear Balloon's first flight in 1993. (Read his farewell letter here). The new website is debuted along with a new domain name smokeybearballoon.org.
To Enliven and Enlighten
A special and new way to educate and excite the public about fire prevention, the Smokey Bear Balloons have enlivened and enlightened tens of thousands of older and younger generations in America, Canada, and the world, renewing interest in wildfire prevention practices. Equipped with a special trailer offering a full range of environmental, educational, and media opportunities to each sponsor, the Smokey Bear Balloons continue to thrill countless Americans with a new and exciting knowledge about wildfire prevention. With the support of public and private sponsors, the Friends of the Smokey Bear Balloon, "Friends", continue to "go to greater heights to prevent wildfires" in America.