Meet Our Balloon Pilots
Rainbow Ryders’ balloon pilots are FAA certified and have over 180 years combined experience. Our hot air balloon pilots have flown over 23,000 hours carrying more than 220,000 Rainbow Ryders passengers.
Pilot expertise is an important reason why Rainbow Ryders is the OFFICIAL Hot Air Balloon Ride provider for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.®
Scott Appelman is the founder and president of Rainbow Ryders, Inc.- the largest balloon ride business in New Mexico and Arizona – and one of the largest in the United States. Rainbow Ryders operates 20 balloons year round doing over 1800 flights per year. Rainbow Ryders’ pilots have flown in 45 states and managed events in Chihuahua and Guadalajarma, Mexico.
After graduating from University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, Scott wanted to make his hobby of hot air ballooning into a career…. In September of 1984 Scott received his Commercial Pilot’s License, Lighter than Air rating.
In 1983, Scott established Rainbow Ryders, Inc. a commercial hot air balloon company offering rides, tethers, promotions, instruction and all sales aspects of hot air ballooning. Rainbow Ryders, Inc. has operated the Official Hot Air Balloon Ride Concession for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta since 1999. Scott has logged more than 4200+ pilot in command flight hours, 700 tether hours, and is also a special shape balloon pilot.
He was also the President of TOP GUN, INC., a New Mexico competitive hot air balloon club, Top Gun Balloonmeister & Safety Officer from 1988-1994. Scott operates corporate and promotional balloons for Rainbow Ryders commercial clients.
Scott has held positions on the Board of Directors of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta ® (AIBF) 1986-1991, Chairman of the Board for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau 2001-2002, Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau 1993 to current. He was the originator and organizer of AIBF’s “BALLOON GLOW” 1987 through 1992, AIBF’s “SPECIAL SHAPE RODEO” 1989 and 1990, and AIBF’s “ALBUQUERQUE ALOFT” 1991. Scott was honored with the Heritage Award from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2013, and he currently serves on the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum Foundation board of directors.
Taylor was introduced to ballooning at age 11 by a friend of the family. After Taylor’s first flight he was hooked. Taylor started his training/flying at age 14 and has been flying ever since. He obtained his private rating at age 16 and his commercial rating at age 18. From age 16 to 18 Taylor competed in various events across the U.S. From age 18 on he has been flying commercial and corporate balloons. In this time he has flown over 10,000 people and flown in over thirty states. He has flown balloons for Dodge, Wendy’s, RE/MAX and Sanderson Volvo. Taylor also has a bachelor’s degree in Science and Aviation Technology and his private and Instrument fixed wing ratings.
Troy received his private pilot certificate at age 16 and commercial pilot license at 18. He has flown over 5,800 hours and more than 20,000 passengers. Troy has flown in 45 states and 13 countries. He has flown commercial contracts for Century 21, Labatt’s Beer, Sears, Swatch Watch, Maxwell House, PSA Airlines, United New Mexico Bank, Breyer’s Ice Cream, Comet Cleaners, Fox Photo, Disney/Pixar, and RE/MAX. Troy also enjoys flying gas balloons; he has built 2. Troy’s accomplishments include 14 New Mexico State Championships, 2 North American Championships, 2 US Hot Air Team Nationals, the 1992 Chrysler Transatlantic Challenge flight with Richard Abruzzo, giving Walter Cronkite a lesson at Château de Balleroy in 1993, dropping a skydiver (Bob Martin) from 32,000 feet, then ascending to 34,000 feet, the 1996 America’s Challenge, landing in the Canadian wilderness and being rescued by helicopter, the 2001 Gordon Bennett, crossing the Alps from Germany to Italy with Earl Miller, Cluster flight for Disney/Pixar’s movie UP, flying over 4,000 feet sitting on a carbon fiber La-Z-Boy chair with 70 helium balloons, and flying over the unique rock formations, stunning valleys, and ancient cliff dwellings of Cappadocia, Turkey.
Dean was stationed here in Albuquerque while serving in the US Air Force. In 1989 he went the Balloon Fiesta & volunteered to crew. He was teamed up with Mark Johnson & the Burger King Whopper Balloon. Soon after he met a local pilot and continued crewing for him. In 1996 he joined the team at Rainbow Ryder’s as a crew member. It didn’t take long for him to decide that flying is what he wanted to do. After serving in the USAF for 20 years Dean retired & now has his dream job of flying balloons fulltime. He’s flown in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. Dean has now logged over 1800 hours & most of them have been right here in Albuquerque.
As a former Air Traffic Control Specialist in Tulsa, OK and Albuquerque, NM, Neil Freedman brings a strong background in aviation to Rainbow Ryders. Neil is very familiar with the Albuquerque air space due to his experience as a Control Tower Operator and Terminal Radar Approach Controller. He is also a native of Albuquerque and knows the Middle Rio Grande Valley well.
Neil began his career in hot air ballooning by crewing for a friend at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 1997. Soon after, he got a student pilot’s license and began pilot training. Neil earned his private pilot’s license in 2000, commercial license in 2010, and has flown a total of 1,175+ hours. He has flown in the Southern and Northeastern areas of the United States, as well as Chihuahua, Torreon, and Leon in Mexico, and the Ontario and Quebec Provinces of Canada. Neil also flew in the first balloon festival in Dubai, UAE in 2006, along with 70 other balloons from around the world.
Come out and enjoy a flight with Rainbow Ryders and “Uncle Neil”, as he is known to hundreds of balloonists across North America.
Mark has been flying hot air balloons for over 31 years amassing over 5,300 hours of pilot in command time. His first flight was in Louisville, Kentucky in 1979. Since then Mark has flown in 46 of the 50 states as well as in Canada, Mexico and Australia. His special memories include flights over Niagara Falls, a tether at Sydney Harbor and inflating a balloon at the World Trade Center! As a corporate balloon pilot Mark flies the REMAX Realty balloon in Phoenix, and flew for the Walt Disney Company, both the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck balloons; Burger King Corporation, the special shape Whopper; and the Russell Corporation’s Jerzees American Activewear balloon. Mark flies over 300 flights a year and while it is a career, it is still fun.
Al has been a balloonist for over sixteen years with over 1,900 hours of flight time. Al has flown in Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Al has been married for 25 years with two children. His wife Terrie is employed at US Airways and thus they have the opportunity to travel the world. Al’s other passion beside ballooning is motorcycle restoration. Al enjoys meeting and flying people from all over the world.
Jim has been involved in ballooning since the very first Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in 1971 as a crew member. In 1983 Jim and his wife Patty purchased a balloon and started taking lessons. Jim and Patty got their licenses over the summer of 1984 and the next summer Jim got his commercial license and has been flying ever since. Jim has trained other pilots, flown for corporations including Kodak, US Rentals, Southwest Airlines, IBM, and many others. Jim and Patty started a dealership selling the brand of balloons they were used to flying. Jim became involved with a local competitive flying club, Top Gun, which was to focus on pilot skills. They also got involved with the local balloon club AAAA. They have flown in almost every city’s rally in New Mexico over the past 24 years. Jim not only has flown balloons all over southwest, but has flown in many other states, and around the world, in Dubai UAE for their 1st balloon event in December 2006 and in Mexico. Jim and nineteen other pilots set and unofficial altitude record at 24,100 feet MSL in 1986. In 2006 Jim began crewing for Rainbow Ryders and in 2007 became one of their pilots. Jim has over 1,200 hours of flying time. Jim loves ballooning, meeting new people and sharing this wonderful sport with them.
Alfred Salazar began his involvement in ballooning in 1997 when he started crewing for award winning balloonist Richard Abruzzo. Alfred obtained his private rating in 2006 and in 2007 he began flying in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta every year since. He has owned four balloons and with always wanting to be involved in every aspect of ballooning, he was the crew chief for the Corporate Dos Equis Balloon. He has been a part of the Rainbow Ryders team since 2005 and in his spare time, enjoys flying fixed winged planes. Alfred’s 3 year old son loves seeing his dad fly and with Alfreds guidance, will be flying balloons when he grows up. He has been in the business for over a decade and still enjoys every day he gets to fly!
My grandmother always took me to the local balloon race as early as I remember. My first flight as a passenger was with my mother and grandmother in 1984. In 1988 I started crewing for a recreational balloonist and just two years later our family purchased our own hot air balloon and started flying recreationally. Just one short year after that purchase, in 1991 I got my commercial rating and was flying passengers and training others to fly. I’ve flown in numerous balloon events around the country including Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for various years (7-8 years if I remember correctly) as far back as 1991. I have approximately 8,000 hours logged in hot air balloons and have been flying on average, 400 hours of flight time per year. Most of that time has been flying passengers for hire in the Phoenix area. Having flown an estimated 75,000 passengers since 1991, hot air ballooning has and will never get old to me. I love to travel and I try to fly in a balloon any place I vacation. Even in my spare time you can still find me out at the launch site flying recreationally.
I have had a passion for aviation since childhood. Started flying airplanes in 1974, balloons in 1978. FAA certificated Airline Transport Pilot. Commercial Pilot Single & Multi Engine Land & Sea. Commercial Pilot Glider. Flight instructor single & multi engine land & sea. Flight instructor Glider. Airframe & Powerplant mechanic licences with Inspection Authorization. I also hold British, French & German pilot certificates.
Travelled & worked extensively for 20+ years overseas for the ‘Bombard Society’, a Luxury Balloon Tour company based in Europe. Helped start SkyWaltz, the first successful Balloon ride company based in India. Built and flew “The Cosmos” hot air balloon across the United States in 1989. Participated in building the Largest Hot Air Balloon in world ‘Miss Champagne’.
I enjoy all aspects of aviation. I have built & flown three hot air balloons, a helicopter and numerous other aircraft. When not flying balloons you can usually find me in some other category of flying machine with our dog ‘Pitot Tube’.