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Official Nebraska Government Website

NDOT, Division of Aeronautics
Mr. Ronnie Mitchell, Director

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John Kugler

John Kugler was born in McCook, NE on December 5, 1956. He earned an Associate of Arts from McCook Community College in 1977 and went on to earn his BSBA from the University of Denver in 1980.

John returned to his hometown to assist in the management of the family business, Kugler Company. He is now Marketing President with responsibilities of marketing functions in a five state area.

Kugler fell in love with hot air ballooning in 1978. He was first exposed to ballooning by a fellow worker who had a son who flew balloons and as Kugler says "the rest is history...". Since then his ballooning has taken him across Northern America and around the world with Steve Fossett on numerous occasions. He was a member of the Balloon Federation of America Gas Division from 1991 to 2006.

John has trained numerous pilots (including adventurer Steve Fossett) in the fundamentals of gas balloons utilizing ammonia as a lifting gas. He originally taught Fossett how to fly gas balloons and served on his core crew performing various tasks during Fossett’s solo around the world attempts, including Fossett’s successful flight in June 2002. Kugler’s other accomplishments include being the leading US pilot with experience in ammonia gas balloons; a builder of hot air and gas balloons and instructing and signing off Steve Fossett in Free Balloons. He is a key figure in the rebirth of gas ballooning in the United States and participed in the Virgin Global Challenger flights. He is also participating in the support and launching of the Celestial Eagle, a proposed Trans Pacific balloon flight that is in the development stages. In 1999 John and co-pilot Ralph "Red" Sheese placed 2nd after launching from Front Range Airport near Denver and landing near Boston, logging 1,710 miles in 67 non-stop hours. This qualified them in the 2000 International Gordon Bennett Cup in Belgium. The Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett is the most prestigious event in aviation held annually around the world. During the 1980’s, McCook, NE was host to the McCook Balloon Blast featuring an amazing display of hot air balloons. Kugler has been the flight director and event organizer for the event for ten years. It continues to grow each year, becoming one of Nebraska’s most spectacular annual free family events. John is devoted to the advancement of knowledge in ballooning and teaching others that show interest and are willing to learn.


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