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Tracy Lay Barnes

February 21, 1939 ~ January 20, 2019 (age 79)

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Tracy Lay Barnes, 79, of Statesville, NC., flew his final lighter-than-air flight on January 20, 2019. His family and his beloved dog, Maggie Mae, saw him peacefully slip away into the evening winds. Tracy’s legacy as a creative genius and aviation pioneer will remain in the hearts of so many people—those he inspired to fly and those he taught to dream.


Tracy was born in St. Louis, MO on February 21, 1939. He moved with his family to Wayzata, MN in 1953. He is predeceased by his mother, Elizabeth McIntyre Barnes and father, Tracy Weed Barnes. He is survived by his sisters Lynn Barnes Nelson (Statesville, NC) and Sarah Anne Barnes (St. Ignatius, MT) and his brother, Douglas McIntyre Barnes, (Des Plaines, IL) and numerous nieces and nephews.


Tracy developed his passion for lighter-than-air flight during his military service. His first balloon was named Old Lumpy. It was constructed from surplus parachutes and ascended to an altitude of 8,000 feet during Tracy’s first solo flight on October 13, 1961. Founding the Tracy Barnes Corporation in 1962, he constructed and flew numerous promotional hot air balloons, flying across America seeking capital to launch his life’s passion: to create and sell balloons of his own design. In 1973, he co-founded The Balloon Works, Inc. with two partners at Rhyne Aerodrome in Statesville, NC. It was here that he designed and built his famous sport balloons, most commonly called Barnes Balloons by his growing customer base of hot air balloon pilots. In the early 1980s, The Balloon Works was the largest manufacturer of FAA-certified hot air balloons in the U.S. He sold The Balloon Works in 1982, took a sabbatical, and returned to Statesville in 1984 to found The Blimp Works, manufacturer of advertising blimps and inflatables, and most recently, patented-design tethered blimps for the British military. Tracy operated The Blimps Works until his passing.


Proudest accomplishments: 101st Airborne Paratrooper, honorably discharged in 1960; designed and flew the first non-military, traditionally shaped AX7 hot-air balloon of the modern era in 1962; established 11 world altitude lighter-than-air balloon records in 1964, still standing; received the first Wirth Medal from Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to ballooning safety, his parachute value design now used in virtually all modern hot air balloons. He made the first pure solar balloon flight on May 1, 1973. Tracy was inducted into the U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame in 2008 and into the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Ballooning Commission International Hall of Fame in 2017. Least recognized creations were Tracy’s Skywalker and Whispership one-man airships that were a tribute to his hero, Alberto Santos-Dumont.


Tracy’s place in the history of modern hot air ballooning is atop the pedestal of its Founding Fathers. His creative mind demanded perfection and excellence, traits he attributed to his father’s example. His pioneering innovations were simple and elegant. His functionally safe designs are timeless hallmarks of his ingenuity and genius and are gold standards still incorporated in the balloons that are flown around the world today.


An upcoming documentary, A Lighter Than Air Pioneer - The Tracy Barnes Documentary, produced by Sand Dollar Productions, will be released in the near future. It is the magical story of Tracy’s life and accomplishments.


A celebration of life will be held at a date to be determined.


In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Tracy Barnes to: The Gordon Hospice House in Statesville or The Balloon Museum, 195 Wilson Park Drive, Statesville, NC 28625;


Reavis Funeral Home of Statesville is honored to serve the family of Tracy Lay Barnes. Condolences may be posted online at

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Family to do services at later date

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