Special shape Wally

By Denise Scammon

Wally is a clownfish-shaped, hot air balloon owned and piloted by Steve Woller and based in Wausau, Wisconsin. Composed of 1,800+ yds. of rip stop nylon, Wally is 100+ feet long, 85+ feet high, and weighs 950 lbs. with its basket. Since its birthdate of May 23, 2008 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wally has logged 20 hours of flight time with its longest single-flight being an hour.

Woller said, “Wally appears to be swimming through the sky because his front fins are attached to a pulley system inside the basket.” The basket is the standard sport size and holds one pilot, one co-pilot, and one passenger. “The co-pilot operates the pulleys that make the fins flap.”

On the ground, Woller has two crews: one from Alberque, New Mexico and the other one is composed of locals from Wausau. Neither crew will be traveling from Wisconson to the Great Falls Balloon Festival event in Maine, but family members who crew and who live on the East coast will help Woller crew Wally.

As for how he got into hot air ballooning, Woller said, “One balloon ride, 10, maybe 12 years ago.” That ride was at a hot air balloon event in Scottsdale, Arizona. “My second ride was in my own balloon.”

That first balloon paid for itself in one day, as Woller used the balloon to advertise a sale at his furniture business. “I expected a small boost in sales,” he said. “What I got was completely unexpected.”

Wally has become so popular that there’s a Wally mascot, stickers for kids, Wally rings and TV events. “There’s even a Wally theme song,” noted Woller, who added that his wife recently sang the Wally theme song in front of an audience of 10,000 people. “And, Wally will be part of a PBS documentary airing next year.”

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