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Great Texas Balloon Race founder receives Wright Brothers award

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 2:29 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:56 PM CDT
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - There aren’t a lot of people who have driven a vehicle for fifty years without a ticket or a fender bender. But, if you do that same thing as a fixed wing pilot, the FAA may recognize that with a pretty big award. And though delayed a year, a Longview man has received that very award, and mostly he piloted a hot air balloon.

The name Bill Bussey is synonymous with the Great Texas Balloon Race; that’s because he started it. But this year the race in Albuquerque may be a bit more memorable to him since he picked up a little something there: the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

“It’s primarily a safety award. If you’ve been involved in anything that’s unsafe that’s been reported you will not achieve this award,” Bussey said.

And Bussey didn’t just do pleasure flights. He is a competitive balloonist but he started flying in 1969 as a fixed-wing pilot.

“I used that aviation at the first part of the career, then I changed to ballooning. But I never stopped flying aircraft, and still haven’t stopped,” Bussey said.

He also pushed hot air ballooning to its limit and still holds the world distance record for one flight: 892 miles in 1996, and even with that he has:

“No scratches whatsoever,” Bussey said.

He received the 2020 award a year late since that Albuquerque race was cancelled. Back in 2019 the FAA started asking him a lot of questions, so he had an inkling someone may have nominated him for the Wright Brothers Award.

“I’ve got the dossier over there. I mean it’s like an FBI investigation,” Bussey said.

And he passed. He says when they started talking about him at the award ceremony:

“It got to me. You start realizing when they introduce you they start saying all these things about you that you’ve never really thought about; it’s very humbling,” Bussey said.

Especially since only a few other balloon pilots have received the award. At 78 he’s still flying fixed wing and balloons, and he knows one day his feet will stay on the ground.

“I’ll know when that is. I’ve already talked to myself about it, you know,” Bussey said.

“I think a good clue for stopping is: how much are you talking to yourself?” I asked Bussey.

“You talk to yourself a lot; no, you don’t do it out loud. You don’t let anybody listen to it,” Bussey laughed.

Well, he does have the Wright stuff.

Bussey got his hot air balloon pilot’s license in 1971 and has been an instrument rated fixed wing pilot for about eight years. He’s been a pilot for 51 years.

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