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Local man wins hot air balloon race
Smith landing
Tatum's crew chief, Jacalyn Smith, removes the balloon after landing. - photo by Crystal Ledford
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Starting his work day well before the sun is nothing strange for Daryl Tatum.

Nearly every day from early spring to late fall around 6 a.m., you can find Tatum in a parking lot at the corner Bethelview Road and Hwy. 9 doing what he loves and what pays the bills — inflating a gigantic, multi-colored nylon balloon with plenty of hot air.

The owner and pilot of Balloons Over Georgia takes dozens of passengers up in his two hot air balloons — one that comfortably holds up to four and another built for eight — each year. The days start early because as air temperatures warm, the risk of turbulence, which makes for bumpy rides, increases.

“This is all I do now,” said Tatum, a former land surveyor and builder. “If the weather’s nice, we’ll get out five, six, seven times a week.”

He also just won the Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race for the second year in a row June 4. In 2008, he tied for first place.

Tatum, a county native, said while he enjoys treating passengers to peaceful trips over Forsyth and surrounding counties, the annual race provides more of a challenge.

“It’s funny because you think about getting an adrenaline rush from something that’s fast and exciting and ballooning is more slow and peaceful, but you still get that adrenaline rush when you’re doing a race,” he said.

Tatum said races also provide a chance to practice flying in conditions that aren’t necessarily ideal.

“I would never risk taking passengers up if the conditions weren’t just right, but in a race you sometimes have to fly in bad conditions,” he said.
“A race is the only chance you get to test and improve your skills.”

While he was alone in his balloon during the course of the two-day race, he had a lot of help on the ground. His crew chief Jacalyn Smith, along with 19-year-old son Evan and Evan’s friend Josh McAdams, served as his crew.

“They’re the reason we won,” Tatum said.

The three served as “chasers,” following the course of the balloon on the ground and meeting up with it in perfect time to refuel. That perfect timing, said Tatum, gave him the edge he needed win since his competitors had to land and wait on their crews to arrive.

But Smith, who has been working with Tatum for about six years and flying with others since 1992, said the honor goes to him.

“In the number of years I’ve been doing this, I’ve flown with a lot of different pilots ... and Daryl is by far the No. 1 pilot I’ve worked with,” she said.

Jim and Inez Durgin seemed pretty impressed too.

The Forsyth couple joined Tatum on a Tuesday morning flight from the south Forsyth launching point, flying about 7 miles over subdivisions and undeveloped areas before landing in the Hopewell Plantation subdivision in Alpharetta.

“When you’re up high and look down, it’s just so quiet and peaceful,” said Inez Durgin.

Added her husband: “I loved it. It was truly amazing.”

The development of Tatum’s business was somewhat amazing too.

He began ballooning about 16 years ago after his wife, Lynn, surprised him with a flight for their 10th wedding anniversary.

He liked it so much, he decided to volunteer with pilot Dan Stukas of Marietta on weekends to earn free flights.

Stukas ended up becoming his mentor, teaching him to fly so Tatum could eventually earn his official balloon pilot’s license from the FAA.

From there, Tatum purchased a balloon and starting taking passengers up on a part-time basis 10 years ago while still working in the building industry. But after a downturn, Tatum decided to focus solely on his balloon business.

It’s taken off since then, with Tatum flying with passengers from all over the Southeast.

But three people in Tatum’s life aren’t typically among them. He said his 16-year-old twins, Dylan and Casey, and his wife aren’t big fans of the balloons. In fact, Lynn went on her first and only ride in March.

“I tell her this whole thing is her fault,” Tatum joked. “If she hadn’t given me that first flight for our anniversary, I wouldn’t be here now.”