Badlands Hot Air Balloon Rally to feature cluster balloonist

Medora, N.D. – The sky over the North Dakota Badlands during the Badlands Appreciation Weekend Hot Air Balloon Rally may look like a scene from the Disney-Pixar movie Up. John Ninomiya of Solana Beach, Calif., plans to fly a helium cluster balloon, consisting of 80 balloons ranging in size from four to six feet during the rally scheduled for Sept. 10 and 11 in Medora. 

The Badlands Hot Air Balloon Rally will feature seven hot air balloons, in addition to Ninomiya’s cluster balloon. Unlike hot air balloons, cluster balloons don’t use a basket or hot air. In this unique form of ballooning, the pilot wears a harness to which dozens of large, helium-filled latex balloons are attached.  The pilot releases a water ballast to ascend, and bursts or releases balloons to descend.  

Ninomiya is nearing the completion of his “States of Enlightenment” project. His goal for this project is to fly a helium balloon in all 50 states; North Dakota will be his 47th for the project. 

With more than 20 years of experience as a balloonist and more than 800 hours of flying time in hot-air balloons, Ninomiya is just one of a handful of balloonists worldwide who fly cluster balloons. He holds a commercial balloon pilot’s rating from the FAA for both hot-air and gas ballooning. 

“The North Dakota Badlands will be a perfect scenic backdrop for John’s flight in North Dakota. He couldn’t have selected a more beautiful location,” stated Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. “His cluster balloon flight will add some excitement to this year’s event, and we’re thrilled he chose the Badlands Hot Air Balloon Rally for his flight in North Dakota.” 

Ninomiya’s interest in ballooning was inspired as a child by the French film “The Red Balloon,” in which a young boy is carried into the skies over Paris by a bouquet of helium-filled toy balloons.  Ten years ago John began teaching himself to fly with helium balloon clusters.  

“It’s challenging, because it’s harder to control than a hot-air balloon,” Ninomiya says. “But there’s nothing else like it. It’s like a child’s dream of flight come true.” 

The scheduled flights during the Badlands Hot Air Balloon Rally are:

  • Sept. 10 at 5:30 a.m. MT and 4:40 p.m. MT
  • Sept. 11 at 5:30 a.m. MT.  

Ninomiya will attempt to fly his helium cluster balloon at the 5:30 a.m. MT launch on Sept. 10. If he’s unable to fly due to wind conditions, he’ll make another attempt at 5:30 a.m. MT on Sept. 11. 

The public is invited to watch all balloon launches, which will occur on the grass lot east of the Badlands Motel in Medora.


Attachment: photo of John Ninomiya during his cluster balloon flight in Ashland, Ohio. 

Medora is located at the entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As North Dakota’s #1 vacation destination, Medora offers family entertainment in an Old West atmosphere. 

For more information about Medora, visit:

For more information about Theodore Roosevelt National Park: 

About John Ninomiya:

 John Ninomiya has over twenty years of experience as a balloonist and over 800 hours of flying time in hot-air balloons. He began flying cluster balloons in 1997, under the tutelage of ballooning pioneer Don Piccard.  This unique and exciting form of ballooning, which involves flying in a harness attached to a cluster of helium-filled balloons, is practiced by only a handful of people worldwide.  

John has made over sixty cluster balloon flights, making him the world’s most experienced cluster balloon pilot.  His flights have included an ascent with oxygen to 21,000 feet, a flight off the coast of San Diego to a landing in a boat, and featured appearances at balloon festivals across the United States.  All of his flights have been conducted safely and in compliance with applicable federal aviation regulations. 

Outside of ballooning, John holds a master’s degree in Health Policy and Management from the Harvard School of Public Health, and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of California San Diego.  He is currently Director of Epidemiology and Health Services Research at Milliman Care Guidelines, a clinical guidelines development firm.  John lives in Solana Beach, California. 

He holds a commercial balloon pilot’s rating from the FAA for both hot-air and gas ballooning.


  1. Karen Root
    January 14, 2016    

    would like to know when balloon launch is for 2016

  2. January 28, 2016    

    Thanks for asking! September 10th and 11th.

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