Superhero Dad Ken Really Can Fly

When your dad has one of the coolest jobs in the world, you’re bound to end up wanting to follow in his footsteps one day.

And for both Amee and Milli Karlstrom, whose dad Ken is Virgin Balloon Flights’ Chief Pilot, that day came sooner rather than later, with both of them already qualified hot air balloon pilots yet barely into their 20s.

As part of our celebration of ‘super dads in aviation’ this Father’s Day, we’ve persuaded our modest Chief Pilot to tell us about some of his extensive ballooning career, his adventurous daughters, and how he came to be at the helm of the biggest commercial hot air balloon company in the UK.

It All Began With The University Hot Air Balloon Club

Ken’s love of hot air balloons began as a young man at a university in Sweden.

“I was interested in all sorts of adventurous things, such as diving and hang gliding.

“But after a bit of an accident hang gliding, I decided I should do something safer for a bit, so I joined the university ballooning club.

"It was sponsored by a beer company at the time, so members got free beer when we weren’t ballooning, which sounded great to me.”

After ballooning for a while as a hobby, Ken’s first professional job was tethering balloons outside shopping centres.

Then, in 1986, he decided he wanted to go out and see the world.

“So I called Per Lindstrand, who I didn’t really know but knew of as he was a couple of years above me at university, and asked if he had any jobs.

"He called me back a couple of days later and asked if I could be in Africa in 10 days.”

An Adventurous English Tourist Meets A Dashing Hot Air Balloon Pilot

It was while working in Africa that an English tourist named Shilpa came on one of his balloon trips and found herself winning the heart of its pilot.

“I met my wife after she came to Africa as a tourist, and that’s ultimately how I ended up in England in 1991,” Ken said.

After arriving in the UK, he worked for a couple of other hot air balloon companies around London and then, in 1997, took on a franchise of his own with Virgin Balloon Flights.

Three years later, in 2000, he became the company’s chief pilot.

Family Matters

Ken and Shilpa have two daughters – Amee, 23, and Milli, 21 – and both have followed in their dad’s footsteps to become hot-air balloon pilots.

“Both have their private pilot licences and as I’m a qualified instructor, I trained them myself,” said Ken, clearly proud of both his girls.“They have always loved coming up in the balloon with me and still do, but are great balloon pilots in their own right. Ballooning has been a huge part of their lives since the beginning.”

Milli passed the exams to become a private pilot when she was just 16 and picked up her licence on her 17th birthday, making her the youngest hot air balloon pilot in the UK at the time.

Two years ago Amee joined her dad as co-pilot for competitions, and the two won their first hot air balloon grand prix last year.

“She and I are heading out to the Lorraine Mondial Air Balloons festival near Metz this summer, and we’re really looking forward to it.”But despite their love of flying, Ken said he doesn’t expect a job request from either daughter anytime soon.

“They both fly for their own enjoyment and have other career aspirations beyond ballooning, so I doubt we’ll ever see them at the helm of a Virgin Balloon Flight,” he said.

While Amee and Milli’s dad really can fly as often as he likes, you could treat your dad to his own unforgettable trip in the sky.

Our Adventure Gift Package is the perfect way to show your dad just what a superhero he is this Father's Day.

Find out more about how Virgin Balloon Flights can help you spoil your dad here.