Napa Valley Balloons, Inc.

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Our Pilots

As the Napa Valley’s most experienced pilots, Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. pilots combined for well over 23,000 hours of flight experience in just hot air balloons alone, putting you in the hands of the most experienced balloon piloting staff in the Napa Valley.

Napa Valley Balloons, Inc has been seen on Oprah, Today, and The Travel Channel... Our commitment to safety and excellence even met the strict security criteria for Chelsea Clinton who joined Napa Valley Balloons, Inc for a morning of ballooning with pilot Bob Swanson above the beautiful Napa Valley. When going ballooning, why not fly with best?…. Come fly with us!

Bob Swanson
Pilot: Bob, full time with Napa Valley balloons since 1996 but has flown in Napa since the early 80’s. He has flown all over the world and is a wealth of ballooning knowledge. He loves to fly and shares his passion for ballooning with his guests daily.

Ken Custis
Pilot: Ken is a Napa native and has flown for Napa Valley Balloons since 1988. Before ballooning, Ken flew helicopters in the Army so his knowledge and experience in aviation dates back longer than he cares to admit!

Kim Kleist
Pilot: Kim is one of the originals and helped build Napa Valley Balloons into what it is today. He has been with Napa Valley Balloons and flying the Napa Valley for over 34 years! 

Gabe Gundling
Pilot: Born and raised in the Napa Valley. After watching Kim and other Napa Valley Balloon pilots at the time land on his parent’s field, he swore he’d be a balloon pilot when he grew up. Gabe has been with Napa Valley Balloons since 2003.

Mike Eakins
Pilot: A former three time World Champion skydiver turned balloonist, Mike loves to fly and belongs in the sky.
Mike has been with Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. since 2011. 

John Barnes
Pilot: John owned his own balloon company and flew for Napa Valley Balloons in the early 90’s. He returned to fly for us full time in 2011 and now enjoys sharing Napa with guests from all over the globe.

Chris Jones
Pilot: Having flown in various hot air ballooning events throughout the world, Chris now enjoys sharing his passion for ballooning and his love of the Napa Valley with his guests. He has been with Napa Valley Balloons since 2010.

 Eakins

John Barnes

Acclaim

Established in 1980 and as the Napa Valley's oldest balloon company, Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. has been featured on many nationally syndicated programs and has been the company of choice for numerous notable personalities. All have chosen Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. for it's reputation and commitment to safety and excellence.

You may have seen Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. flying NBC’s Today Show host Matt Lauer speaking to Katie Couric in their New York studio. It was evident that Mr. Lauer thoroughly enjoyed his balloon flight. We hope you had a chance to see the incredible coverage for yourself. P.S. Matt and his new fiancée returned to join us for their own private adventure...

Another Celebrity Flight! June 20, 2001:
Chelsea Clinton is the latest on a long list of notables from all walks of life who have chosen to fly with Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. while discovering and exploring our corner of the wine country. We are proud that our level of excellence met security criteria for Chelsea’s flight. A grand time was had by all!

How many of you caught the Oprah Winfrey Show on Wednesday, May 31, 2000?
Including Napa Valley as part of a show about great vacation spots, the show featured tour guide Tracy Gallagher, host on the Travel Channel. If you had watched, you would have discovered fun and interesting places for couples, families and singles. “Not Your Typical Vacation (Getaways for Two)” highlighted the Culinary Institute at Greystone and hot air ballooning above the Napa Valley. There we were – our Big Top in the center of things!

Celebrity Flight, July, 2004:
In an installment of a special series, the Today Show travel editor Peter Greenberg took a three-day side-trip from San Francisco which included a hot air balloon flight in Napa Valley with Napa Valley Balloons, Inc.

ESPN Sports Channel – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Wine Country TV Series – Story about NVB, Inc.

Fine Living Channel – Radical Sabatical Story About NVB, Inc. pilot Don Surplus

Food Channel – Burt Wolf

Evening Magazine – Many features

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous – Several Features

The Travel Channel – Many Features

and many more...

Our History

10 days after taking his first balloon ride for his 33rd birthday in 1978, pilot and founder Don Surplus purchased a balloon with four of his newfound converts. Together they started a flying club which they later named Napa Valley Balloons. Now over 30 years later and regarded as one of the premier hot air balloon companies in the U.S. Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. looks forward to sharing with you our spectacular valley and our passion for ballooning.

There were about 400 balloons in the U.S. at that time, making ballooning a very unique and curious activity. Every time a balloon landed, the almost magical allure attracted countless people to the balloon site, many of them bent on using any means imaginable to convince the pilot to take them for a flight.

It wasn’t long before Napa Valley Balloons took on a life of its own as a business venture. In 1980, it incorporated. Today, Kim Kleist and Gabe Gundling are the proud pilots and owner-operators of what is regarded as one of the finest hot air balloon companies in the U.S. Their personal experience spans flights in the U.S. and Europe and seventeen years attendance at the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival.

With Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. as the flagship of the industry, more people are flown in Napa Valley than any other flight corridor in the world. To its credit, Napa Valley is recognized the world over for fine wines, culinary excellence, and hot air ballooning – Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. is proud to have played an instrumental part in building that recognition

An Abbreviated History of Ballooning