hot air balloon ride

Hot Air Ballooning

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Getting Started

Remember the kid at the airport who used to wash your plane for a ride, or pump gas for 3 weeks to earn one lesson? Many balloon students earn instruction the same way. Balloons need crew-not to fly, but to get airborne and to get back to the launch site. Since balloons drift with the wind, their pilots can't simply turn around and fly home when they're ready.

Controlling the crown line during hot inflation

A two- or three-person crew helps the pilot rig the equipment, holds open the envelope while it fills with cold air, and applies weight to the outside of the basket as needed before launch. Then they follow the balloon on the ground, and after the landing help the pilot pack everything up and bring it home again. Much of the crew workload consists of carrying heavy equipment from the truck to and from launch and landing spots. It's hard work. Large, professional ride operations and flight schools pay their crew (sometimes). Most sport balloon pilots don't pay crews in cash, but they do say thank you with rides or lessons. Of course, you could always pay for flight instruction, but crewing is also a great way to learn about the sport before your formal training begins.

Under FAR Part 61, balloons do not have a CFI. Any commercial balloon pilot may instruct students, conduct biennial flight reviews in a balloon, and carry passengers for compensation or hire. Part of the commercial balloon PTS involves instruction. An NPRM currently in preparation would establish a CFI for balloons. Balloonists' opinions on this NPRM are sharply divided. Some feel such a rating would improve and standardize the quality of instruction. Others feel it would restrict instruction to urban areas where instructors could attract enough students to justify the cost of maintaining the CFI. It is unclear at this time what effect the NPRM would have on BFR's for balloonists.

Choosing a balloon instructor is just as critical as choosing an airplane flight instructor. You could go to one of the Part 141 schools. These schools maintain the same quality of instruction as airplane Part 141 schools. However, unless you live near one, you will not learn the intricacies of flying in your own unique part of the planet. Since micrometeorology and terrain are of critical importance to the balloonist, this could be a negative factor. On the other hand, you'll learn from professional instructors, whose teaching skills are sharp and current. Another option is to hire a local instructor. The local pilot's teaching skills may also be sharp and current if there is a lot of ballooning in your area.

The Balloon Federation of America (BFA), the largest organization of balloonists in the world, maintains a list of instructors who participate in its Master Instructor Program. The list appears in the BFA Member Roster, and is a good place to start. In fact, joining the BFA is a good first step anyway. You'll receive its news, educational, and reference publications, and be able to check your Roster for pilots and crew wherever you go.

The FAR's require the balloon pilot to be 14 years of age to apply for a student license, 16 to take the exam for a private certificate, and 18 to get a commercial rating. There is no requirement for a medical certificate, however, you must sign a statement that you have no known medical defects which would make you unable to pilot a free balloon.

Your flight training will include at least six flights and ten hours for a private certificate, ten flights and 35 hours for a commercial. If you already have an airman's certificate in another category, the flights and time requirements are somewhat less, although you must still log balloon flight and instruction time. If you already have a fixed wing certificate, you don't have to take the written.

For a private hot air balloon rating, you must have two flights of at least 30 minutes' duration each, a solo flight and an ascent to at least 3,000 feet above the point of takeoff. Commercial applicants must have two flights of at least 1 hour's duration for a hot air balloon rating, two solo flights, and an ascent to at least 5,000 feet in a hot air balloon. In addition, you'll learn and be tested on standard and emergency flight procedures such as rigging, weigh-off, level flight, terminal velocity descent, the burner or pilot light going out, and high wind landings. The test procedure is just like that for airplanes-take the FAA written, schedule an oral exam and flight check, get signed off by your instructor, and take the test.

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Hot Air Ballooning
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