GeekWire: Seattle’s tech guy takes GeekWire up Epic balloon rides take you to new heights

A balloon from Seattle Ballooning rises in front of Mount Rainier, as seen from another balloon, during a sunrise flight near Auburn, Wash., on Wednesday. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Eliav Cohen declared, “It never gets tired,” as he held his iPhone up to the sun and viewed the Cascades from it. He also added another photo to the already 37,000 on the phone.

Cohen is not just another guy taking one-too-many pictures of a sunrise or sunset. At 3,000 feet in the air, drifting in front of a backdrop that includes a majestic view of Mount Rainier, Cohen is living his dream as the founder and chief pilot for Seattle Ballooning. Hot air balloon tours are offered by the company over farmland and rivers south of Seattle, Wash.

The professional balloonist — one of just a handful in the state — is also a tech veteran who founded the The Bot Lab, which develops chatbots. The startup is also soon launching Helium, appropriately enough, a new artificial intelligence platform designed to increase brand engagement on third party websites.

In some ways, Cohen’s businesses have a mutually beneficial relationship. He developed a chatbot to assist him in answering all the questions from potential customers of Seattle Ballooning. This allows him to spend more time helping people enjoy the joys of flying high into the sky during sunrise and sunset.

Anyone who has been on one Cohen’s balloon rides knows that it is an amazing feeling to get away from the computer and be free. He was obviously thrilled to be able to end a day of Zoom calls, sales meetings and bookend it with beautiful balloon rides.

Seattle Ballooning is open from May through September. They fly twice daily if the weather allows, with about 120 flights in summer.

Cohen is a confident and quick-talking pilot who launched his company in 2016 after he began flying in 2009. Cohen’s enthusiasm is evident from the beginning of the trip, riding with customers to a launch site while playing Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly”, all the way to the end on the ground when Champagne is not yet drunk and he can tell you how hot-air ballooning was first launched in 1783.

Hot air is blown into the balloon during the prep for takeoff. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Cohen may as well see the sights along the way.

He said, “I have the exact same 3,000 photographs of Mount Rainier” as three craft rose into the early morning sunlight above Lake Tapps and White River. Below was a patchwork housing developments and undeveloped fields.

As the sun rises, the flight is interrupted by the “oohs” and “ahhs” of 10 passengers in the basket. A layer of fog hangs above the valley. Except for occasional propane gas blasts to warm the balloon’s atmosphere and keep it aloft, the balloon is incredibly silent and still riding the wind without any engine. Cohen is an expert commentator on weather patterns and balloon history. He also uses modern technology such as GPS apps to track his progress.

GeekWire reporter Kurt Schlosser reacts as the hot air balloon he’s riding in gains altitude. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
The sun rises over the Cascade Range during a morning flight with Seattle Ballooning. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Before we launched, it was quite low-tech. Cohen released a small balloon filled with helium and an LED light. He then watched the balloon rise with his naked eye in order to see what was happening with the wind. Cohen is looking forward to moving to drones which will fly high and return readings to pilots.

Cohen simply leant over the basket’s edge and spit several times to see the wind. He also kept an eye out for the two other craft.

Cohen stated, “See what other balloons do?” This is the place you don’t need any technology.”

Although the sport has been around for 40 years, Cohen is still trying to instill a passion for it among young people. Seattle Ballooning offers a pilot training program for students. Amazon took notice as it was promoting a 2019 Amazon Studios film called “The Aeronauts” and donated a replica of a ballon featured in the film to Cohen for his student program.

In a story last weekend, The New York Times shed light on the efforts of Cohen and others around diversifying ballooning and injecting fresh blood into the sport.

Fog hangs in the valley as a Seattle Ballooning balloon drifts over rural Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Seattle Ballooning chief pilot Eliav Cohen is all smiles during another beautiful flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

GeekWire, along with the rest of our customers who flew with Cohen Wednesday morning, traveled 6 1/2 miles. They reached a maximum height of 3,705 feet at 22 mph and an altitude of 3700 feet. After a slow descent, we passed close to a junkyard with a few cows. We touched down in the grassy area behind a house after a 58 minute flight. Cohen is familiar with the locations where he takes off, lands and stops. He also said that a nearby road was the location for an old Rainier Beer advertisement.

He poured champagne and toast the French origins to ballooning. The tech man with the unique hobby of technology asked the passengers he was flying with how the flight went.

I confessed to feeling a bit wobbly in my legs and having trouble gripping the basket’s edge at times. It was a pleasant and easy experience, even for my first time.

Cohen, who is 11 years into his pilot career, said that he was afraid of heights. I don’t like being on a ladder.”

Scroll down for more images:

Eliav Cohen watches a small helium balloon rise into the air so he can gauge wind direction as customers arrive in a parking lot at Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Balloons are inflated before the sunrise flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The balloon air is heated with propane gas, causing it to rise. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Mount Rainier during a morning balloon flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
A balloon flies near the White River. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Eliav Cohen can’t stop taking pictures of the views he sees every day while ballooning. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Eliav Cohen talks to customers on the ground after landing following a sunrise flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Publited at Fri, 20 August 2021 14:34.35 +0000

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