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 75,000 hours carrying more than 275,000 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.®

Rainbow Ryders Scott Appelman Pilot PresidentScott Appelman

Scott Appelman is the founder and president of Rainbow Ryders, Inc.- the largest balloon ride business in the United States. Rainbow Ryders operates 26 balloons year round doing over 2200 flights per year. Flying over 22,000 passengers annually. Rainbow Ryders’ pilots have flown in 45 states and managed events in Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Chihuahua and Guadalajara, 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 5100+ pilot in command flight hours, 700 tether hours, and is also a special shape balloon pilot.

Scott flies ride balloons and operates corporate and promotional balloons for Rainbow Ryders’ commercial clients, which include Dos Equis Beer, Intel, Phillips 66 Fidelity Investments, NM Pinon Coffee, KOB TV-4 to name a few

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, co-originator of 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 as the President the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum Foundation board of directors.

David Bair

Dave has been involved in ballooning since the late 1970’s and owned his first balloon with his brother in 1990. His introduction to ballooning was primarily through his parents, Ray and Carol, and crewing at Fiesta. Dave is commercially rated for both hot air and gas balloons.  He got his hot air private certificate in 1989, commercial in 1991 and the gas rating in 2003. He has over 700 flight hours in hot air and gas balloons and has flown throughout the United States and foreign countries.  

His most interesting hot air adventure was flying over Pikes Peak and landing in Colorado Springs, flying at nearly 18,000ft.  He and the family have flown in Ireland, Germany, France, Great Britain, Netherlands, and Belgium as well.

Kris Braden

Kris Braden began ballooning in 1984 when he was 7 years old; that’s when his dad bought his first balloon. He went on to get his private license in 1994 when he was 16, and then his commercial license only one year later in 1995 at 18 years old. All this experience has cumulated in over 3,300 hours of flight time.

His most interesting flight took place in Battlecreek Michigan. He was flying the Red Baron frozen pizza balloon and landed in a nudist colony. They were all very friendly and even helped him pack up the balloon! However, his favorite place to fly so far would have to be Gallup, NM in the Red Rock Park (if you haven’t seen the photos, we highly recommend Googling the event, it’s beautiful). Throughout his career, Kris has flown for different TV shows, movies, and commercials. The most recent was a Ram truck commercial called Ram: Way of Life (Outdoor), check it out here!

 Rainbow Ryders Balloon Pilot Troy BradleyTroy Bradley

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.

Rainbow Ryders Balloon Pilot Dean DonleyDean Donley

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 2400 hours & most of them have been right here in Albuquerque.

Thomas Forenz

Tom is a life-long aviator. He holds several FAA certifications including commercial lighter than air pilot and airframe and powerplant technician with inspection authorization.  A former airline technician and professor of aviation technologies at Southern Illinois University, his first flight in a balloon was in 1984 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival.  Upon arriving home from that Fiesta, Tim ordered a new balloon and has been flying ever since.  He has over 1800 flights in hot air balloons.  Twice he’s finished in the top 20 at the hot air balloon Nation Championships and has won 4 pole grab competitions.  Now, Tom has turned his attention to sharing the joy of ballooning with the many visitors to Albuquerque as well as the balloon friendly locals.

“New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment – I feel that every time we launch.  Floating over the Rio Grande river and the beautiful, multicolored desert framed by the Sandia and Manzano mountains is an incomparable experience.  It is truly my pleasure to be able to share this with my passengers.”

Neil Freedman

As a former Air Traffic Control Specialist in Tulsa, OK and Albuquerque, NM, Neil Freedman brings a strong aviation background to Rainbow Ryders. Neil is quite familiar with the Albuquerque airspace due to his experience as a Control Tower Operator and Terminal Radar Approach Controller and knows the Middle Rio Grande Valley well. He is also a native of Albuquerque, graduating from UNM and attending the Anderson School of Management.

Neil began his career in hot air ballooning by crewing for a friend at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 1997. Soon after, he began balloon pilot training, and earned his private pilot’s license in 2000, commercial license in 2010, and has flown more than 1,400 hours since. He has flown in the southwest and northeast areas of the United States, as well as north and central Mexico, and eastern 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.

Matthew Haase

Matt found his love of flying from his father, who was a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilot. Many early memories involved him crawling around in the helicopters at the hangar. He discovered ballooning in 2010 when he began crewing for a ride company in Traverse City, MI and later began traveling to balloon competitions and events across the United States, including 5 U.S. National Championships. Before coming to Rainbow Ryders, he even worked as the sales and service rep at the Cameron Balloons Factory.

Matt has spent a lot of time up in the sky; he received his private pilot’s license in Feb 2005 at the age of 17 for airplanes and his commercial for balloons in April of 2016, thus allowing him to amass 1,100 hours in the air. He’ll never forget the time he was lucky enough to go flying with airshow performer and Red Bull Air Race pilot, Mike Goulian, and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels on a photo flight around his hometown of Traverse City, MI!


Kyle Laxton

Kyle found his love for the sport of ballooning on the east coast, in Pennsylvania. Back in 2011, after being in the Marine Corps, he applied to a Craigslist ad to be ground crew. He loved it from the beginning and worked his way up very quickly to becoming a pilot himself! Only one year later, Kyle earned his private pilot’s license, and his commercial one year after that in 2013.

In the last seven years alone, Kyle has accumulated about 800 hours of flight time! He eventually made the move out West to become a part of the Rainbow Ryders’ flight team. You can now often find him in our Las Vegas location, flying every morning as long as Mother Nature permits!

Daniel Liberti

Daniel was literally born into ballooning.  Growing up in Albuquerque, his entire family was heavily involved with Balloon Fiesta, which means he got to go for his first balloon ride at three years old.

He went on to get his private pilot’s license in 2007.  His parents and he had an agreement that he had to finish college before getting licensed.  The commercial licensing came along in 2016, so by present-day Daniel has accumulated about 1,300 hours of flight time.

Aside from flying for a living, Daniel also flies for fun in hot air balloon competitions. He travels around the country during the summer competing at different events, qualifying for national and international standings.

Brooke Owen

Growing up in a ballooning family, Brooke is a second generation balloon pilot. After obtaining his balloon repairman certification he turned his attention to flying and received his pilot certificate in 1994. A few years of flying special shaped and corporate balloons around the country led him to Albuquerque, NM with a full-time pilot position with Rainbow Ryders.

Living in Albuquerque, Brooke was able to acquire a significant amount of flight hours and passenger flying experience. In 2013, wanting to be closer to family, he packed up and moved to the northeast and purchased Adirondack Balloon Flights ( In the winter season, you’ll find him back where it all began in Albuquerque. Having flown more than 3700 flight hours and over 35,000 passengers in balloons, his flight experience is unmatched.

Paul Petrehn

Paul received his private pilot’s license in 1993 and his commercial license only two years later in 1995. You’re in great hands when you fly with Paul; not only does he compete (and win!) in hot air ballooning competitions in his free time, he has also logged over 1,700 hours in a hot air balloon.

As of January of 2018, Paul was the 19th Ranked Hot Air Balloon Pilot on the FAI/CIA World Ranking List. Other than Albuquerque, his favorite place to fly is Motegi, Japan. While at altitude, it’s possible to see the Pacific Ocean and Mount Fuji while also enjoying mountain and river valley terrain and fall colors.

If you’re lucky enough to fly with him, be sure to ask him about the time he flew an ice cream cone for Ben and Jerry’s, or a bottle-shaped balloon for Jose Cuervo 1800 Tequila!

Jesse Roholt

Jesse began crewing balloons as a part-time summer job before his sophomore year of high school. Crewing became a hobby on the weekends through the remainder of high school and during aviation training. Jesse attended flight school in Phoenix where he received his CFII, commercial multi, and single-engine aircraft ratings. In February 2014 Jesse began working at Rainbow Ryders and took part in a pilot apprenticeship program. in May 2014 he earned his commercial balloon certificate and has been flying passengers and corporate balloons since. It’s all about balloons with Jesse, when he is not behind the burners he still loves crewing. His energetic personality, enthusiasm for ballooning and extensive knowledge of aviation make him a great member of the Rainbow Ryders team.

 Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Pilot: Alfred SalazarAlfred Salazar

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!

Patrick Stevens Hot Air Balloon PilotPatrick Stevens

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 9,000 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 80,000 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.

Steve Trieber

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, Glider & LTA. 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, an FAA UAV pilot certificate and I’m an FAA flight safety representative.

Traveled & 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’.

Andy Williams

Don’t let his youthful looks fool you, Andy first got involved in ballooning in the late 70s in Iowa at a Nationals Competition. He began by crewing for the different pilots that were competing, and his love for the sport just grew from there! He completed his private pilot’s license while he was still in high school, then went on to get his commercial shortly after graduating.

All this experience has culminated in to 3,500+ hours of flight time, so you’re in great hands when you fly with Andy (just be sure you laugh at his jokes!) When he’s not flying, he keeps busy with his other business (On the Fly Inflatables), roping with his horses, hunting with his dogs, and spending time with his son Cooper.