Bryan County: Staying Above It All
Andy Cayton likes to fly high on the weekends. Cayton, a Pembroke area resident, is one of the world’s foremost balloonists. The retired Army helicopter pilot holds three world records in small hot air balloon categories for altitude (18,000 feet), distance and time (1,666 miles in 16.5 hours) and duration (24 hours without stopping).
Last year, he was the first alternate on America’s winning Gordon Bennett race team, capturing what is in the balloon racing world the equivalent of soccer’s World Cup and yachting’s America’s Cup. Cayton is also what the locals around Pembroke call their “Balloon Meister,” thanks to his role in staging the community’s annual Balloon Fest. Cayton’s balloons are for sport – and profit. “My whole adult life, I’ve been flying something,” he says.
He currently operates Feather Air Balloons, a for-hire balloon company. “There is a wonderful sense of peace you get from a balloon,” he says. “A lot of my customers say they’re afraid of heights, but in a balloon you really don’t have a sensation of height; it’s almost like you’re just looking out from a mountain top.”
Cayton lifts his customers up mainly on the weekends and only at sunrise or two hours before sunset to take advantage of the calm winds at those times of day.
The cost of a chartered flight is $175 for one hour above the earth. His hot air balloons rise from just above the treetops up to 1,000 feet. For professional races, Cayton switches to helium as a source of lighter than air fuel.
Georgians concerned about the high cost of gas for their vehicles could find a measure of solace from Cayton’s fuel costs. “It takes about $4,000 to fill up a helium balloon,” he says.