Alliance’s Ben Miller builds a hot air balloon

Ben Miller has had his eyes on the sky since he was 5 years old. It was then that he fell in love with hot air balloons.

“We were chasing balloons for fun,” Miller’s father, Bill, said. “My dad had a Super 8 camera and was making videos of balloons. Ben was watching endlessly. He started drawing pictures.”

Fast forward, Miller is a teacher and father to twin girls, but one thing hasn’t changed.

In 2019, Miller designed and built his own hot air balloon, which will be flown this week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Balloon Classic. The event takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the grounds of Kent State University’s Stark Campus in Jackson Township.

Miller also plans to showcase his balloon as part of the Grand Alliance Carnation Festival’s Days in the Park balloon event, called Balloon Lift Off, from 7-10 p.m. on August 11 at Silver Park in Alliance. This event is weather dependent.

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Since Miller is the assistant “balloonmeister” for the event, his balloon, named “Twice Blessed”, will be piloted by his longtime friend and event veteran Beth Davidson, owner of Zig Zag Balloons.

“I’ve been involved with the Hall of Fame Balloon Classic since 2002,” said Miller, who earned his pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2007. “I worked my way up. I started as a member of volunteer crew.

Ben Miller, who teaches art at Minerva Middle School, talks about

“Once you have a ball, everyone is family and crew.”

Balloon pilots form a close-knit community. Among Miller’s good friends is Hartville Fire Chief Mike Lorentz, who has held his license for seven years.

“Once you have a ball, everyone is a family and a crew,” Lorentz said.

An art teacher at Minerva Middle School, Miller began building his balloon in 2015 in the basement of his home in Alliance.

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“I bought an industrial sewing machine from the 1950s,” Miller said, adding that he was assisted by his mentor, Mike Emrich of Akron, who built his own balloons. “I learned to sew thanks to him.”

Miller’s is a 70 foot tall running ball. It is shaped like a soccer ball, which allows it to rise and fall during competitions much faster than traditional balls.

He flew about 30 times.

“When we first inflated it, I was a little nervous,” admitted Miller.

In the 1990s, Ben Miller of Alliance was listed in the Canton Repository because of his great love for hot air balloons.

Made from nylon and double-stitched seams, Miller said the ball’s colors and pattern hold special meaning.

“Purple represents ribbons commemorating premature babies,” he said. “My daughters were born at 29 weeks and spent 55 days in the NICU at Akron Children’s Hospital.”

Today, twins Spencer and Sawyer, 8, are healthy.

“One is really interested, the other isn’t,” he said with a smile.

The ball’s white design pays homage to the Greek flag, representing his ex-wife’s legacy.

“The first time I saw it, I was blown away,” said a proud Bill Miller.

“It takes a lot of time, a lot of paperwork and a lot of patience.”

In June, Ben Miller competed for the first time in the United States National Team Championships in Shreveport, Louisiana, flying with and against 15 of the nation’s top pilots, where he earned fifth place.

Davidson said it’s rare for a pilot to build a balloon, which must be certified by the FAA.

“Ben is a great guy, I’m so happy for him,” she said. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of paperwork and a lot of patience. He followed it at every level. He was a crew member, a professional pilot and now, at national level.”

Alliance's Ben Miller, who has loved hot air balloons since he was 5, has built his own craft, which will fly in the Hall of Fame Balloon Classic this week.

Balloon pilots see time differently than other people. What may look like a nice sunny day to others may not be suitable for flying due to wind speed. With one eye on the weather forecast, pilots also look to the treetops for guidance.

Too much movement can mean it’s too risky.

But Miller said there’s nothing quite like guiding a hot air balloon through the sky.

“You have fun every time,” he said. “It never gets old. Every flight is different. You never have the same experience twice. It’s one of the unique activities we humans can do. If you ever get the chance to ride a hot air balloon , seize it. It’s an opportunity to experience what most people don’t have the opportunity to experience.”

Contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

If you are going to

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival Balloon Classic presented by Aultman will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Kent State University at the Stark and Stark State College campuses in Jackson Township. Here is the program :

Friday

  • 6:30 a.m. Balloon Classic launch (weather permitting).
  • 4:00 p.m. Balloon Classic will feature balloon-related activities, skydivers and live music. A balloon launch is at 6:30 p.m. (weather permitting) and the night glow is at 9 p.m.

Saturday

  • 6:30 a.m. Balloon Classic launch (weather permitting).
  • 8:00 a.m. Up, Up & Away 5k and Free Kids Fun Run at Kent State University on Stark Campus.
  • 4:00 p.m. Balloon Classic will feature balloon-related activities, skydivers and live music. A balloon launch is at 6:30 p.m. (weather permitting) and the night glow is at 9 p.m.
  • 10 p.m. Balloon Classic fireworks at Kent State and Stark State campuses.

Sunday

  • 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. Hot air balloon launch (weather permitting).