Oldest Oregonian to fly in a balloon went up at NW Art & Air Festival

ALBANY, OR — A 102-year-old Albany man who took to the air at the NW Art & Air Festival is believed to be the oldest Oregonian ever to fly in a hot air balloon.

Erman Johnston went up with his son Gary Johnston and grandson Mitch Johnston, all of Albany, in a balloon piloted by Randall Feuhrer.

102-year-old Erman Johnston of Albany became the oldest person in Oregon to take a balloon flight at this year’s NW Art & Air Festival in Albany. Photo credit: Don David

102-year-old Erman Johnston of Albany became the oldest person in Oregon to take a balloon flight at this year’s NW Art & Air Festival in Albany. Photo credit: Don David

“I was a little bit nervous before we went up, but it was great,” grandson Mitch said of the three-generation flight. “It was very peaceful and serene.” Mitch Johnston said he got the idea to send his 102-year-old grandfather on a hot air balloon flight after hearing that it was something Erman had always wanted to do. Balloon pilots gather at the NW Art & Air Festival Albany every August, and balloon rides are among the events that take place during the three-day celebration of art and flight.

Family members gathered at Timber-Linn Park early in the morning, and great grandson Trevor—representing a fourth generation of Johnstons—was on hand to give his great-grandfather a hug before the group lifted off.

It was slightly overcast but calm as they lifted off and drifted south over the city of Albany. Mitch Johnston said that his grandfather—who had celebrated 80 years of marriage to wife Erma Johnston just days before the record-setting flight—thoroughly enjoyed his flight.

“My grandpa loved it,” Mitch said. “We all had big smiles on our faces the whole time.”

During the flight, Mitch said the pilot briefly touched down at the historic Albany airport and then re-launched, so that Erman would be able to say he was the oldest person ever to take off from the Albany airport. Albany’s airport is the site of many other firsts in Oregon aviation history: established in 1909, it was the first airport in the Northwest and the second airport in the United States. It was also the site for the flight of the first aircraft built in Oregon, and remains the only airport in Oregon on the National Register of Historic Places.

The flight ended with a landing near Oak Creek Community Church, just south of the Albany city limits.

Oregon’s hot air balloon association, the Willamette Aerostat Society, does not keep formal records on the ages of balloon passengers, but WAS president Tim Gale and other long-time Oregon balloon pilots said they believe Erman Johnston to be the oldest person ever to fly in a hot air balloon in the state.

Johnston missed being the oldest person in the world to fly in a hot air balloon by several years; according to the Guinness Book of World Records, a 109-year-old woman made a hot air balloon flight in Iowa in 2004.

For more information, photos, and videos of hot air balloon launches, visit the NW Art & Air Festival website, www.nwairtandair.org. The NW Art & Air Festival is the Northwest’s premier aviation festival, featuring concerts, balloon and airplane flights, and more. It drew more than 55,000 in attendance at the 2013 event. It is held annually in Albany, with next year’s festival planned for Aug. 22-24, 2014.