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Thomas A. F. Sheppard

Thomas A. F. Sheppard
Inducted into the U. S. Ballooning Hall of Fame
August 1, 2010
By the Balloon Federation of America at the
National Balloon Museum, Indianola, Iowa 

     Thomas Albert Francis Sheppard was born at Watership Down, in Sydmonton, in Southern England, on September 3, 1929.  His school days were during World War II and he spent many hours in the air raid shelter.   Tom’s flying days began at age 14 when he learned to fly gliders with 211 Squadron Air Training Corps in Theale, England.  Tom holds pilot ratings for gliders, fixed wing aircraft and free balloons, as well as an FAA Repairman certificate. 

     After graduating from school, Tom joined the Fleet Air Arm of the (British) Royal Navy. He learned to fly in a De Havilland Tiger Moth. His time in the service was during the transition between piston engines and gas turbine engines. He spent time on three aircraft carriers during the seven years he was in the service. He was invalided out as the result of a serious flying accident. 

     After his military service, Tom and his wife, Pamela, moved to Canada and then eventually, with their children, Andrew and Jane, moved to the US. They have lived in West Bend for the past thirty-nine years. Tom is an active partner at Sheppard Spaeth Associates, a company that sells equipment to the telecom and cable TV industries. 

     Tom’s ballooning adventures started in 1973 with three partners. They purchased a balloon and learned to fly.  They organized a balloon competition in 1975 in West Bend, Wisconsin, the first balloon competition where Tom was the Balloonmeister.  After being able to fly in the US Nationals for one year, it was discovered that the BFA had a rule banning all but US Citizens from competing in the Nationals. Tom then volunteered to work on the Balloon Federation of America (BFA) Events Committee. 

Highlights of  BFA Events Committee Activities 

1974 to 1983 BFA Events Committee Member

1975 to 1979 Scoring Manager

During this period  all sanctioned result were entered, and calculated by hand.  Each pilot had a page of results and the averages were calculated by hand.  Tom became an expert with the rules and regulations related to balloon competition and scoring.

1979 to 1983 Events Committee Chairman

Led the team of BFA members to the FAA in Oklahoma City to edit Chapter 9 of the Practical Test Standards for Free Balloons.  Leader of the team from the Events Committee with a representative from  Thunderbirds  and FAA Regional Representatives to meet with a manager of AFO-800 in Phoenix regarding Balloon Event Waiver Policy (GAOH 8700).After all the negotiations regarding altitude, etc, had been agreed upon, the only unresolved objections was the dropping of markers.  Tom and some of the team arranged to demonstrate markers of different weights, dropped from the roof of the hotel, in Battle Creek.  The FAA agreed that a marker with a total weight of 100 grams was acceptable.

As chairman, Tom was an early advocate of computers and he approached the BFA Board about the purchase of a computer for the committee. It was decided to purchase two computers, one for the Events Committee and one for the BFA office for membership records. These computers had CPM operating systems and eight inch floppy disks!

1983 to 1987 Chairman BFA Technical Committee     

1983 to 1986 Director BFA

1985 to 1986 President BFA

1985 to 1989 Alternate CIA Delegate for USA

1989 to 1991 Presidential advisor                     

1988 to 1998 Chairman BFA/Competition Division Rules Committee

Tom developed the original BFA Event Scoring Software and the BFA Event Team Scoring Software.  He also developed the Observer Assignment Software.

1990 to 1995 CIA Delegate for USA


North America Balloon Association (NABA) Activities

1999 to 2006 Founder & Vice Chairman NABA Board 

1999 to 2006 Competition Manager (Responsible for Rules, Scoring and GPS) 

     During the period from 1975 thru 2005, Tom was Event Director at  approximately 110 events.  This included 1977 and 1978 US National Hot Air Balloon (HAB) Championship, 1981 and 1985 World  HAB Championships,  1990 World Gas Balloon Championship and World Rozier Championship, (4) North American HAB Championships and (8) Canadian National HAB Championships. 

     Tom is considered the father of modern balloon competition in the USA.  In addition to his work in rules and competition task setting, Tom introduced the Observer Program to the USA balloon competition scene.  After working as an Observer at the 1977 World HAB Championship in York, England, Tom, along with Debbie Spaeth, his ballooning partner, setup the US Observer program.  This included writing an Observer Handbook and training Observers for the 1978 Wisconsin Dells Balloon Rally, a testing ground for the Observer concept and practices, prior to the 1978 Nationals.  In 2001, the US Observer Corps presented Tom a trophy “In recognition and appreciation for establishing the US Observer Corps in 1978”.

      During his years of balloon competition officiating, Tom has shared that knowledge with a multitude of others.  In addition to the hundreds of Observers trained over the years, Tom and Debbie organized Officials Competitions seminars and Balloon Competition seminars.  These seminars shared knowledge to help others learn about balloon competition, on the local, national and international levels.  While serving on the International Balloon Committee (CIA), Tom developed and wrote the original CIA Jury Handbook, and the CIA Jury Exams, still used today.  Tom was also a principal author of the CIA publication Organizing a Safe Balloon Event.  And for thirty years, Tom could be found as a speaker at annual Safety Seminars around the country. 

     Tom represented the USA at the International Ballooning Commission (CIA)  from 1981 thru 1995.  During that time period, Tom served on the Rules Sub-Committee, Safety Sub-Committee, Jury Board and as USA Delegate. 

     Tom also spent ten years as an FAA Designated Flight Examiner for Balloons.  This was from 1978 thru 1988, a time of high growth in ballooning.  At that time, many of the Midwest pilots earned their pilot certificates after a check ride with Tom. 

     In between officiating, Tom did find time to fly his balloon.  Tom’s first competition flight was at the Gathering of Eagles, Crystal Lake, Illinois 1974. Tom also competed in the 1974 U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship, in Indianola, Iowa.  His balloons included “Wayward Wind”, “Maria”, “Pink Panther” and “HMS Daedalus” later renamed the “Union Jack” by subsequent owners.  But he states that his most memorable flight was piloting the Malcolm Forbes “Chateau de Balleroy” special shaped balloon, with Christie Hefner, Playboy Enterprises, as his passenger. 

Tom has been honored around the world for his ballooning activities.  These honors include:

Japan Balloon Federation Icarus Award for Contributions to Balloon Competition in Japan (2008)

Wisconsin Balloon Group Golden Whistle Award for distinguished service to the ballooning community in Wisconsin, the United States and the World. (2002)

BFA Award – For many years of Exemplary Service to BFA and Ballooning Worldwide (2002)

BFA Competition Division – Lifetime Achievement Award (1997)

BFA Shields Trauger Award for Exemplary Service to the BFA – (Twice 1979 & 1996)

BFA Competition Division Al Desmond Award for Contribution to Competition in USA (1994)

FAI/CIA Montgolfier Diploma for Service to the Sport of Ballooning (1990)

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Honor for substantial contributions to advancement of ballooning (1989)

Canadian Balloon Association – Joan Martin Award for Outstanding Contribution to the sport of Hot Air Ballooning in Canada. (1984 & 1994)

WK Kellogg Co Award of Excellence – For establishing a tradition of excellence in World HAB Competition (1985)

BFA Presidents Award – 1978, 1982, 1983

Award of Excellence for establishing the tradition of excellence in world hot air balloon competition, Northeastern Illinois Balloon Association.(1986)                                                  

Organizer and/or Official at International, National and local balloon events, including:

     Wisconsin Dells, WI (24 years), Monroe, WI (21 years) Rockford, IL (18 years), Tanager Place, IA (8 years), plus numerous other events held for one or two years.

For more information and photos check here for complete PDF printable document.

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