Don Cline is one of the pioneers of modern hot air ballooning. Don became involved early in the sport in 1970. He has made many contributions to ballooning, especially in North Carolina.
Jo Cline became a balloon pilot in 1971. She was Don’s partner in all his ballooning adventures and managed the Greensboro BalloonPort for 41 years until her death in 2015.
Don attended high school in Statesville, NC, was an Eagle Scout with 46 merit badges, and in 1952, at the age of 15, became a member of the Civil Air Patrol which fostered his interest in electronics, radio and aviation. Don holds a electrical engineering technology degree from NC State University and a BS in both math and physics from Guilford College. His post-graduate work includes courses in astronomy, physics, optics, mathematics, engineering, computer science, economics, earth science and business administration.
Image: Don's Balloon, Daybreak III.
Don moved to Greensboro, NC in 1959 and worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories as a member of the technical staff for 18 years. Don left Bell Labs in 1977 and founded Micro Computer Systems which he sold to the Harris Corp in 1995.
In January 1998 Don founded the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) where he remains as it’s president. Located nine miles north of Rosman, NC, the 200-acre complex consists of 35 buildings and various optical and electronic telescopes including 2 massive 85’ diameter telescopes. You are invited to visit www.pari.edu to explore this major astronomical facility and all they do. Year round students and educators worldwide attend classes and camps in science at PARI.
Tracy Barnes was in the early stages of designing the FireFly balloon, and he needed someone to design and build an electronic temperature meter. Don Cline was introduced to Tracy in 1970 and he designed and built over 1,000 temperature meters that were used in nearly every balloon Tracy built between 1972 and 1979.
Tracy trained Don and Jo (10 flights each) for their balloon certificate in 1971 and 1972. Don has owned nineteen balloons over the years (1972-2020), his first balloon was built by Tracy and was used as the test balloon and delivered to Don as The Balloon Work’s first FAA certified balloon on April 18, 1974. This balloon N48JD, was named "DayBreak". Jo's first balloon was N19JD and named "DaySpring".
Don designed and manufactured other balloon equipment for Tracy including battery powered inflator fans, digital fuel meters, a powerline detection system, two-wheel balloon transporter, balloon auto pilot and wind speed/direction meter. This engineering support continued to help Tracy in 1980-1985 when Tracy designed and built four 68’ long, single-engine helium airships he named Wind Dancer and Whispership.
It was during this time period that Tracy founded The Balloon Works and brought in a team of experienced balloonists and engineers to help him with the design, engineering and testing of the balloon he planned to have the FAA certify. First, Tracy moved from the warehouse in south Charlotte to an abandon women’s prison in north Charlotte.
Already working with Don, Tracy then hired Dodds Meddock from Valparaiso, IN, Karl Stefan from Palestine, TX, and Terry Wright from St. Paul, MN. Thirteen experimental balloons were built at the women’s prison between 1972-1974.
Tracy had been developing a new design for a more reliable venting/deflation system in the top of a balloon. At the time most balloon valves were not reliable and once opened might not reseal. Tracy developed a brand new design: a parachute sealing the hole in the top of a balloon which could be pulled down into the balloon to either vent or deflate the balloon, and when released, would automatically close.
Tracy installed the first parachute valve (12’ dia.) in balloon N64122 and asked Don to make a test flight. On April 22, 1973 Don flew the balloon to 11,000’ but reported the valve was too small for a quick deflation on landing. Tracy replaced the 12’ valve with a 20’ valve, and Don made a second test flight on April 29, 1973 with his wife, Jo. Don reported that Jo had no problem using the larger valve.
The parachute valve is now the industry standard used by almost all balloon manufacturers.
Tracy wanted to move from Charlotte to a place where he would have more room to fly balloons. In 1973 Bill Meadows introduced Tracy to Raeford Rhyne. Raeford offered to rent Tracy two chicken houses and surrounding property for just $50 a month. Rhyne Aerodrome (NC15) is located 10 miles north of Statesville near Love Valley, NC. Tracy moved with Dodds, Karl, and Terry and started manufacturing his FireFly balloon there in 1974. Don continued to design and manufacture temperature meters and other equipment for Tracy.
In 1974 Don and Jo built their first BalloonPort. In 1984 a new BalloonPort was built at 136 W. Steeple Chase Road south of Greensboro. For 47 years the BalloonPort has offered balloon sales, training, balloon annuals, repairs, and rides. Don was a FAA Designated Flight Examinator for 28 years. For 20 years the BalloonPort hosted a Christmas Party for the Carolina Balloon Association (CBA).
Along with Bill Meadows, Don Cline founded The Carolina Balloon Museum. Working on the project for more than five years, 2.27 acres were purchased in 2016 with an additional 1.35 acres in 2018.
The site is located in Statesville, NC, a city rich in ballooning history, near I-40 East at Exit 154. The design drawings are complete and approved.
Now in the fund raising phase the 20 million dollar museum is solidly in the process of becoming a home for ballooning history and source of inspiration for new adventurers to take to the skies.
A ham radio operator K4GBD since 1952 and holds general radio license allowing him to act as a station engineer for both radio and TV stations.
Civil Air Patrol Member (1952-1986) retired with the rank of Major.
He has served as a board member for RWG Licensing, Mars Hill College, Kenan Fellows Advisory Board, NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Appalachian State University College of Arts and Sciences, ASU Engineering Physics, UNC Greensboro University of Arts and Sciences, UNC Asheville University Board, Guilford Technical Community College, UNC Charlotte Industrial Board, Education & Research Consotrium (ERC) Broadband, Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, and NASA NC Space Grant Consortium.
Don is a life member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), New York Academy of Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Optical Engineering, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, American Astronomical Society, American Association of Variable Star Observers, Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and a life member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).
1970 Traveled with Tracy to FAA Atlanta to start certification process
1971-1972 Don and Jo trained for their balloon certificates
1971 to Present BFA Life Member and BFA Safety Seminar Speaker
1973 Test solo flight of the first parachute valve to 11,000 feet
1973-1991 Flew in the US Nationals in Indianola, Iowa for 18 years
1974-2019 Only pilot who has flown in Carolina BalloonFest for 46 yrs
1974-2020 Commercial balloon pilot with over 4,000 flight hours
1974-1986 Served on the BFA Events Committee
1975-1995 Contributed to the Carolina Balloon Association newsletter
1977 US pilot member of World Championships in York, England
1978 Organized and directed the flight of eight balloons to over 24,000'
1978-2007 FAA designated examiner giving over 500 check flights
1978 to Present FAA Certified Balloon Repairman for the BalloonPort
1980-2007 FAA accident prevention counselor
1981&1985 Safety officer for World Championship in Battle Creek, MI
1982&1985 Two gas balloon flights over the Alps from Murren, CH
1986-1989 BFA board member, secretary and treasurer
1988-1989 BFA/NAA balloon record attempts coordinator
1991 March 25 Certificate of Honor awarded for Gas and Hot Air Balloons by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC
2013 Ed Yost 40-year Master Pilot Award (also presented to Bill Meadows)
2014-2020 Co-founder of Carolina Balloon Museum, Statesville, NC