QUICK THOUGHT: The man in the black helmet...The Fox Hunter

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Why does a pilot wear a black helmet every year at the balloon race?

By Kyle Quick

If you think about any of the balloon festivals you have attended I am sure you have seen the same pilot every year wearing a black looking hardhat.

John Esserman or better known as the “Fox Hunter” began piloting hot air balloons in 1978.  Esserman has competed in nearly every Annual Hot Air Balloon Race held in New Haven, Mo.

Before I share the interesting and funny story behind Esserman and his black fox hat and the nickname "Fox Hunter", you should know about how he is a legend of his sport.

Esserman, 76-years-old, began aerostation (Piloting of hot air balloons) in 1978. Outside of New Haven’s Balloon Race are sanctioned races where pilots earn points towards qualifying for Nationals.

Pictured: John Esserman in the 2011 Hot Air Balloon Race throws at the target to finish in 2nd place.

Esserman’s greatest achievement came in 1981, only three years since he began piloting, when he was the National Points Champion, which qualified him for the World Championship race.

Esserman told me, “It was like a rookie playing baseball and all a sudden was going to play against Stan Musial.  I couldn’t believe it, I was tickled to death.”

While Esserman had a successful career throughout his years in aerostation he said, “To me ballooning is all about the friendships you make…when you land and all the people who show up or just talking to you (Kyle).”

“In my mind ballooning is not always about the flight but the people.  When I land in an area and there are lots of people around, many who have never seen a balloon, to me that is what ballooning is all about.  I love flying, the scenery is always beautiful and I have been fortunate enough to have opportunities, like here in New Haven of taking someone for a once in a lifetime experience.”

Pictured is John Esserman taking notes at the 2012 Hot Air Balloon Race.

Esserman the "Fox Hunter.

When Esserman began ballooning he wanted something unique to wear, a trademark if you will.

Esserman had attended a charity auction with a friend and her dad.

To make a long story short, there was a horse stable nearby, after Esserman saw her put a Fox Hat on before mounting the horse.

Esserman said, “Oh my gosh that is perfect because I had never seen a fox hat before…it’s got a chin strap and it’s a hard hat.  The very next day I went out and bought one and every since then everyone calls me the "Fox Hunter."

Esserman has flown all over the country and even across the world, “No one knows my name but they know the “Fox Hunter”, so it has been really identifiable.  I’ve loved it!”

He said, “Before I was married, the corny part after being known as the “Fox Hunter” is that I would say I like to hunt fox but just two legged fox.”

I would like to thank Mr. Esserman for taking time to share your story with me.  It was truly an honor.