Black Hills Balloons is fortunate to have one of the most dedicated team’s in the industry.  Founded by Steve Bauer in 1984, Black Hills Balloons quickly became one of the most well-established attractions in the Hills.  His commitment to the area and the local tourism allowed Black Hills Balloons to thrive for many years.  In 2015, Florida balloon pilots Keely & Damien jumped at the chance to take over the reins and move to the beautiful Black Hills.  Building on the well established business with a focus on a marketing and customer service, Keely and Damien are insuring Black Hills Balloons will be flying for 30+ more years.

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Damien Mahony

Damien started his career in the commercial balloon business in 1999 and hasn’t looked back. As Crew Chief for Orlando Florida’s Blue Water Balloons, he gained experience on the ground before becoming a pilot himself. Over the years, he’s flown thousands of hours and entertained countless passengers; making a name for himself flying the largest hot air balloon in the US while acting as GM and Chief Pilot for Orlando Balloon Rides. Damien has flown balloons all over the country, however, nothing compares to flying the Black Hills. Damien hails from County Kildare, Ireland.

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Keely Mahony

Keely’s family is one of the largest in the sport (currently, there are 10 pilots in the family).  Her Mother, now one of the most well-respected in the industry, started flying balloons when Keely was just 7.  Spending weekends tagging along attending balloon festivals and playing in and around balloons, Keely started taking flying lessons at age 13; following along in her mother’s footsteps and becoming one of the youngest female pilots in the US. An advocate for women balloon pilots and introducing the sport to the next generation, she founded “Female Balloonists”, a forum for the minority group to truly embrace being a woman in what is typically a male-dominated sport. Keely grew up flying Northern California and really found her stride flying over the Orlando Florida swamps.

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Read “Our Story” to hear how Keely and Damien ‘ran away with the circus’ and ended up the owners of Black Hills Balloons.

Steve Bauer

Steve is the founder and original owner of Black Hills Balloons.  Although he no longer runs the business, he still loves to fly the area; flying the Custer area for over 30 years, he can tell you a thing or two about the Black Hills. Steve has flown all over the world, including Central America and Africa.  Ask him about Ted Turner and Victoria Falls in a balloon! Full of stories and life, he’s an icon in the Custer area.

Mike Comerford

Mike splits his flying time between Orlando and the Black Hills.  After visiting years ago, he fell in love with the area and now joins us multiple times each summer.  We’re honored to include Mike at many of our Summer flying events and Custer flights.  Mike hails from England and will likely keep you laughing with his dry humor.  Ever the storyteller, ask him about the day Michael Jackson joined him for a flight.


Elijah Kitzman

When you meet Elijah, you can’t help but notice his obvious love for hot air balloons.  Crewing for Black Hills Balloons since before he could drive and promoted to Crew Chief in 2016; he’s an important part of the team.  Always joking with the crew or flashing a friendly smile to the passengers, his management style keeps the team working together and running safely and efficiently.  Nicknamed “Walking Eagle” because he’s our man on the ground; we couldn’t do it without him!


In addition to Keely and Damien Mahony, who are both FAA certified repairmen; trained in maintenance, repair and reconstruction.  Black Hills Balloons equipment is maintained and inspected by Prairie Sky Inc.

Mark West

When it comes to maintaining Raven/Aerostar equipment, Mark is as good as it gets.  As the former president and senior engineer for Aerostar International, he literally designed our equipment and knows the complete history of parts, fabric, and performance.  Currently consulting, traveling to speak at Hot Air Safety Seminars and acting on the Balloon Federation of America board, he is a strong activist for the sport.  His knowledge is priceless to Black Hills Balloons.

Kay West

Kay first started flying balloons in the ’80s and quickly became one of the sports top female pilots.  Currently, she’s one of 14 Designated Flight Examiners, actively traveling to examine new pilots and speak at Hot Air Safety Seminars.  Her years of instructing new students, working hand and hand with the FAA  and advocating for the sport, has helped keep the sport of ballooning evolve and maintain it’s presence in the busy world of aviation.  Her years of experience are a gift to the sport of ballooning and Black Hills Balloons.