ANGOLA – Chase crew, altimeter, gondola, drop line, everything is balloon for me.
Before you take off and bask in the beauty of an inflated hot air balloon, there is a long process before you even reach the air.
A pilot’s license is first and foremost before piloting a balloon. If an aspiring pilot is 14 years old, he can obtain a student pilot license. At the age of 16, anyone can qualify for their private pilot license.
Books and flight hours are the necessary elements for the preparation of a written test. Primarily, pilots learn the weather and how to read it, along with information about their aircraft. Flight hours give individuals hands-on experience in the air. After passing the test, pilots fly with a member of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to fully secure their flight ticket.
A commercial license can also be obtained with more timed flight hours. Commercial pilots may offer paid rides, while private pilots focus primarily on competition flying.
“It starts as a private pilot, which involves 10 hours of training, you know different flight times, etc., and you can get your private license once you pass your written test and checkride, etc.”, said Perfect Calm balloon pilot Dennis Hall. “Then you can go back or you can even do it all at the beginning and do 35 hours of flying and 10 hours of commercial training and get your commercial license.”
Purchase of materials and maintenance allow the balloons to fly. Although the materials cannot be bought just anywhere.
Goodnight Gracie pilot Janet Lutkus talked about the Cameron ZL-70 balloon she currently uses and some of its features.
“I carry three 15-gallon liquid propane tanks with me. I only really use two, but I have a third,” Lutkus said. “(Goodnight Gracie has) a wicker rally basket. Wicker baskets are the best and most durable as they make hard landings easier as there is a bit of play. They have tested metal and other materials but wicker is the best.
Lutkus recommends going directly to the balloon manufacturer for supplies. When it comes to repairs, she looks for certified repair shops because manufacturers don’t deviate from their own brand.
Although both are aircraft, there are significant differences between piloting a hot air balloon and piloting an airplane.
“They can lead, we can’t lead. They have control. Other than that, we have less restrictions when it comes to the hours we need for training. Our plane is a little more basic than what a fixed-wing pilot uses,” Hall said. “But we still need to know all the knowledge in airspace information and everything associated with FAA regulations to be able to fly.”
Weather is the ultimate determining factor when ascending the sky in a balloon.
“Light winds and some speed overhead, but not totally calm, are ideal weather conditions for ballooning,” Lutkus said.
Securing a trusted crew of friends and family to catch the ball is a must. Finally, flying in a willing and enthusiastic community provides the perfect landing spot.
After earning a pilot’s license, purchasing the necessary gear, and checking the weather, you can soar to soothing views and new perspectives. Always keep a close eye out for trees and power lines along Angola’s skyline.