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Hot Air Ballooning

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Equipment and Costs

When you start your training, you'll use your instructor's balloon or buy your own. Balloons are rarely available for rent. Purchase prices range from $3,000 or less for a well-used system without much life left, to $11,000 and up for new equipment. Annual or 100-hour inspections ensure your balloon is legally and practically airworthy, just like any other aircraft. A new balloon envelope should last 300-500 hours before it needs a major overhaul or replacement. The airtight coating on envelope fabric wears out with prolonged exposure to high temperatures, so the cooler you can fly the balloon (the lighter the load, in other words) the longer it will remain airworthy. Baskets and burners last indefinitely if properly maintained.

In addition to the balloon, you'll need an inflator fan, a truck or trailer for storage and transportation, radios, and other related small tools. New fans cost $1,000 or more, although some mechanically adept balloonists build their own. Usually gasoline-powered, their engines run in the 5 h.p. to 12 h.p. range. The bigger your balloon, the more power it will take to blow it up. Chase vehicles, like fans, reflect the budget and taste of the pilot. Elaborate RV-type vehicles offer you an entertainment center for your passengers, storage for your equipment, television/vcr for watching videos of your flight on the way back to the launch site, and a price tag of over $40,000. Most balloonists use a pickup truck, van or car with a trailer.

Balloons don't usually fly in the vicinity of controlled airspace, so an aircraft radio is not required equipment for the balloon pilot. However, as airspace becomes more regulated and crowded every year, a hand-held like the ICOM A-21 is rapidly becoming standard aboard a balloon.

You'll also want to have radios with which to coordinate your ground crew. The pilot gives talks to the crew about direction of flight, roads, and intended landing sites.The crew notifies the pilot of any ground hazards, changing weather conditions on the surface, hidden livestock (which can be frightened by the noise of the burner) and owner permission to land. CB's work fine for this, but the frequencies are often crowded. Business band radios seem to be the choice for most pilots.

The cost of your training depends on the Part 141 school you attend or the instructor you choose, and whether you have your own equipment. Part 141 schools advertise rates as low as $1,400 with your own balloon to get a private certificate. Private instruction varies tremendously-rates can be $150 per hour to over $400. If you crew for lessons, your out-of-pocket costs will be much lower, but it will take a lot longer to log the necessary flight time and become proficient.

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Hot Air Ballooning
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