What flies in my mind: ‘I love flying my flying airplane’

Why we make paper airplanes

A balloon handler and balloon-inspired movie star. Photograph: Meghan Kennan, Meghan@MeghanSTK

I love flying my flying airplane.

When I first started out as a balloon handler, I had to learn how to release the ballon and land it safely, and I think that’s something you can’t learn in school. Most people take a college level. You have to be precocious.

I’m an aviation science and engineering student. I worked for the Royal Canadian Air Force. I had an aviation career, flying the navy.

I’m the largest Macy’s balloon handler in the world. We’re one of the top eight in the world.

With Macy’s balloon handler shoots – No 1: Go first. Photograph: Meghan Kennan, Meghan@MeghanSTK

[Balloon handlers] go through a rigorous selection process. We do a six-month program before we start working. We do a physical exam, we do our crossfit test, we do our swimming test, we do our agility test, we do our shooting test – and after that, we’re all tested for aeronautical knowledge.

We go through a lot of interviews where we have to show them that we can present the balloon safely and we can also just be a normal, polite person.

Every Macy’s balloon in history told a story. It always meant something special to the people who had seen it. This is one of the best.

What attracts me about balloons is that they have to move, they have to make a change. They have to move, so I like seeing it do that and be completely safe.

If I had my way, I’d just fly my paper airplane all day every day because it’s so cute.

What must it be like to hang on the top of the roller coaster? Photograph: Meghan Kennan, Meghan@MeghanSTK

I’ve had close calls, but I’ve had a lot of good ones. If you hit something, it goes limp, but if you hit something that’s not quite like it, you might just smash on to it.

Getting on board can be scary. Being on top of a roller coaster is pretty crazy, and you have to stay in your seat. You can’t move.

It gets real scary when you make those long, steep stairs down to the ride.

It’s so unreal. It really is.

What stands out the most? Photograph: Meghan Kennan, Meghan@MeghanSTK

I work near Times Square, so it’s very busy. It’s like a circus a lot of the time. One of the most fun things for me is seeing people’s reactions.

We’re such a small village. Everything is based on one state. So everyone you see walking around, everyone you see, you’ve seen before. Everyone knows someone.

The level of professionalism we have in the Macy’s operation is very high. I could go to the office and be a different person every day and it would be the same.

A year ago, I did a movie called Living in Oblivion. It was about how I grew up with kids playing in our playground all the time. There were all these paper airplanes I made, and everybody’s out there. People would just run up to me and say, “hi, I’m Macy’s guy.”

Being on screen wasn’t that big of a deal. We just put on a paper airplane and try to fly it. People tell you your story and the whole point is to tell that story in whatever medium you can. It was an interesting experience to be on the screen.

I hope to be a movie star when I grow up.

Meghan Kennan does the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon handler shoots live from New York from 1.30-2.30pm on Friday 15 February on RTÉ Two, followed by The Rising – Reporting with Terry Crews, 8.30pm on RTÉ One.

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