After you have experienced the adventure of a hot air balloon flight over Swindon, you may be left with the impression that the pilot of your balloon has one of the best jobs in the world. How do you get to be a hot air balloon pilot?
What you need to do
A hot air balloon is registered as an aircraft and its pilot needs a specialist Private Pilot’s Licence for balloon pilots. There are strict requirements to achieve this licence including:
• Have flying experience of over sixteen hours within twenty-four months gained over at least six flights
• Be trained by a British Balloon and Airship Club instructor on at least four flights
• Undertake a flight test examination under a Civil Aviation Authority examiner
• Perform a solo flight supervised by an examiner
• Pass a written examination on aviation law, navigation, meteorology and balloon systems
• Pass a medical examination
• Attend a landowner relations seminar
All of the above have to be completed within a two year period. The strict criteria are there because a pilot needs to have the knowledge to deal with any problems that may arise during the flight. The pilot is also responsible for the safety of all flight passengers.
The written exams do not require a high level of education and many of the answers are common sense.
Training can be expensive. There is the cost of hiring a hot air balloon together with the training and examination fees. Not all planned flights will take place due to adverse weather so you need make sure you have enough time left in the two-year qualifying period to rearrange to flight date.
You can familiarize yourself with what is required of a balloon pilot by reading books on the subject. The Balloon Flying Handbook covers all the practical skills that a pilot needs to learn:
• Pre-flight planning
• Weather issues
• Layout and launch
• In-flight manoeuvres
• Landing and recovery
It is an American publication, so the chapters on air law and the National Aerospace system are not relevant in Britain. Other useful publications are The Ballooning Manual by Bod & Carol Howes and Ballooning From Basics to Record Breaking by John Christopher.
It is not easy to become a hot air balloon pilot, but if it is your dream, then with determination, financial resources and a lot of time, you can qualify for hot air balloon pilot licence. In the meantime, you can enjoy a relaxing flight as a passenger with a seasoned professional pilot.