Sushi, the flying goldfish hot air balloon, is one of two special-shape balloons making its appearance at this year’s Great Falls Balloon Festival. Owners Katie and Forrest Griggs, fly the balloon from its base in Incline Village, Nevada, all over the U.S. Katie shared some statistics and background information on the balloon and herself. While they co-own the balloon, Katie is the pilot. “Forrest is my crew chief,” she said. “He drives the truck and is always there when I land. My daughter, Valerie, age 25, has grown up in and around ballooning. She is a natural pilot. She gets involved whenever she can.”

Sushi was created in June 2001 by Lindstrand Balloons USA, in Galena Illinois. The balloon’s envelope has a volume of 90,000+ cubic feet; its tail is 36 feet tall; its lips are 13.5 feet wide. Katie described Sushi as “weighing in at just under 400 lbs. The basket – fully loaded with fuel, burners, and various accessories – weighs another 500 lbs. Total weight of the system is around 900 lbs.”

The basket is a standard sport size basket which can comfortably hold the pilot and two passengers. “The basket is made of wicker and ratan, with aircraft steel tubing for extra support,” said Katie, who estimates Sushi has made nearly 200 free flights and 80 evening glows. “Sushi has two burners, although I only use one at a time.” The second burner is a safety feature. Most flights last about an hour, but the fuel can keep a balloon in flight for close to two and a half hours. Katie said her longest flight in Sushi was two hours.

In explaining how she got into the hot air balloon business, Katie, said, “My husband, Forrest, was in the propane business. He donated propane for an event in our area, and was offered a ride for his donation. He doesn’t care for heights, so I got to go. I loved it. That was 23 years ago.”

Because of the traveling distance from Nevada to Maine, Katie and Forrest are dependent on the Balloon Festival committee to help them find people to crew. Katie said, “Sometimes we have crew who go to different events with us. We have made lots of friends while ballooning.”

Traveling each summer includes five or six balloon events, as well as non-balloon related things to do such as going to the Nascar races, the Corvette museum, and the Mac Truck museum. “We see things that we might not otherwise get to see. We try to do all the tourist-y things, too.” The Griggs travel across the country in a motor home with the balloon in a trailer, “so we are at home everywhere we go,” noted Katie.

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