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Department Alumnus, James Winker passes away

James A. Winker, a successful ballooning engineer, passed away on April 3, 2017, at the age of 88. James was born in December of 1928 in Randall, Minnesota. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Marlene and his 5 children.

James graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics in 1952. During the first year of his undergraduate education, James was a crew member for the launch of Don Piccard’s Japanese FUGO Bombing Balloon. This sparked his interest in ballooning, and he began working at General Mills as a junior engineer, where he did research on the development of internal pressure balloons.

After working at General Mills for 4 years, James joined the airforce and was assigned to the balloon research group. Here, he was in charge of super pressure balloon development. After serving 2 years in the military and receiving the rank of Major, James joined Raven Industries, where he worked for 35 years.

Throughout his career, James contributed significantly to the development of ballooning. Some of his notable experiences include piloting Raven’s hot air blimp, “Starship Enterprise,” flying his balloon, “My Blue Heaven” at the opening ceremony at the Lake Placid Olympics, and originating the design for sports gas balloons, known as “Quick Fill.” James achieved 13 balloon related patents during his lifetime, and was inducted into the U.S Ballooning Hall of Fame in August of 2009 by the Balloon Federation of America. 

When he wasn’t working with balloons, James enjoyed traveling, bicycling, square dancing and photography. He was also very involved in the Urban Renewal movement, and advocated for greenway improvements. His obituary can be seen here.

Last Modified: 2017-05-16 at 10:10:58 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation