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For as long as humans have walked the earth, we have dreamed of flying. One of the most exciting ways to achieve that dream is to become a hot air balloon pilot!
To get a private pilot license for hot air ballooning, you need to be at least 16, have 10 hours of balloon flight experience, 6 assisted flights, one solo flight, one controlled ascent above 2,000 feet from the takeoff point, 2 flights lasting over an hour within 60 days of certification, a written test, and pass a practical skills test. The FAA also offers student and commercial pilot licenses.
Becoming a hot air balloon pilot requires a significant commitment of time, money, and effort. However, we’ll discuss below how this dream can become a reality for you!
Student, Private, and Commercial Licenses
There are three different kinds of hot air balloon licenses offered by the FAA. Each one has different requirements and allows you to do different things with a hot air balloon.
These licenses can be viewed as being progressive. Each one is more difficult to get than the one before it, and each one allows you to do more than the one before it.
The licenses (in order) are a student license, private license, and commercial license.
To obtain a student license, there isn’t much you have to do. The requirements include:
· You must be at least 14 years old
· You must speak, write, and understand English
· Indicate that you do not have any medical condition(s) that would disqualify you from flying.
While you have to indicate that you don’t have a medical condition that would disqualify you from flying, you don’t actually have to include a medical certificate for this license.
A student license is what’s required for you to begin training for a real license. It really doesn’t allow you to do too much. It’s just a necessary step in the process!
Once you have your students license, you’re ready to start working towards a private license. Completing the following requirements while you hold a student license will result in obtaining a private license:
· You must be at least 16 years old
· Complete 10 hours of flight training
· Complete 6 flights under the supervision of a certified flight instructor on a private area of operation
· Take 2 flights lasting at least an hour within 60 days of certification.
· Make a controlled ascent to 2,000 feet above the takeoff point.
· Complete 1 solo flight.
· Pass the FAA Knowledge test (written).
· Pass the Practical Knowledge test (oral and flight).
As you can tell, getting a private license is a grueling process that requires a lot of time and money. It’s not something that you can easily complete in a weekend!
Remember too that these are the basic requirements. Many applicants find that passing the Knowledge and Practical Knowledge tests require a lot more practice than just 10 hours of flying.
Once you have your private license, you can pilot a hot air balloon by yourself or with passengers! You cannot charge for your services and you cannot fly in any commercial capacity (including advertising).
But what if you wanted to balloon professionally? I mean, hot air ballooning is fun in and of itself, but we all have bills to pay! If this is your situation, a commercial license is the license for you!
The requirements for this license include:
· You must be at least 18 years old.
· Hold a private pilot license.
· Spend 35 hours as a pilot, 20 of which much be as a hot air balloon pilot.
· Take 10 flights in a balloon.
· Complete 2 flights in a balloon as the pilot.
· Make 1 controlled ascent to 3,000 feet above the takeoff point.
· Complete 2 solo flights.
· Take 10 hours of advanced training including 10 training flights.
· Pass an advanced Knowledge test (written).
· Pass an advanced Practical Knowledge test, including information about being a certified balloon instructor (oral and flight).
There’s obviously a lot that goes into getting a commercial license. It’s a serious commitment that comes with serious responsibilities. There’s a reason it’s so rigorous.
First of all, once you have your commercial license, you can fly for hire and participate in commercial flights. Hot air balloon companies can hire you and pay you for your services.
Secondly, you can act as an instructor for other pilots trying to get their license. This is a massive responsibility that must be taken seriously.
Make a Plan
First things first, you need a plan. Now, you may be saying to yourself “I’m not a planner, I just go with my gut. Planning is for punks”. If that’s how you feel, you can go ahead and skip this step. But you do so at your own risk.
Making a plan is SO important whenever you’re trying to accomplish a major goal, and this is a major goal.
You’ll want to look at how much time you can allocate to getting a license, how much money you can budget for training and equipment, and then make sure to check your calendar!
A lot of flying is done in the early morning or late at night. You’ll need to be prepared for that. Also, a lot of flight schools will book training flights close to each other so you don’t lose skills over time.
If you can only fly during the weekend, you need to figure out a way to do that consistently so you finish in a timely manner. You also need to schedule a time for studying.
Volunteer as a Crew Member
Other than having an instructor, you can get experience by volunteering as a crew member. This will help you learn your way around a hot air balloon and prepare you for your tests!
I really can’t think of a better way to prepare for being a balloon pilot than being a crew member. It really gives you the hands-on experience you need that can’t be obtained in any other way.
Plus, it will give you a great perspective on hot air ballooning. You might not spend a lot of time flying (or any time for that matter), but you’ll better understand the work that goes into a successful flight!
You’ll get the opportunity to work on the pre and post flight checklists, observe a pilot in action, and build some great relationships! You’ll learn the names of different pieces of equipment and parts of the balloon, plus you’ll learn how they work!
If you love ballooning, this is a great way to get started. You might also find out that being a pilot isn’t for you, and that’s totally fine! Working as a crew member or just being a passenger is great too!
All in all, if you have the opportunity to work as a crew member, I wouldn’t pass it up. It will give you valuable experience in every part of the ballooning process!
How Long Will it Take?
This is an incredibly important question. I could go on forever and ever about how important time management is, but I’ll spare you of that. Instead, we’ll just look at some of the facts!
There are a lot of programs out there that advertise how you can get your pilots license in just one week
The reality is that there is no way that’s possible, just from a logistical perspective. In fact, if you read the fine print, these programs have a lot of preparation that you need to do before even showing up.
So really you don’t get your license in just one weekend. You get a lot of flight instruction and access to equipment for one weekend, but then your back on your own.
Looking at the cold, hard facts, this process could take you 6-12 months. In fact, one company says their average student spends 22 hours over 10 months preparing for their tests. That’s a much more realistic expectation.
Below, we’ll look at some of the things that you should consider while you’re planning how long it will take to become a hot air balloon pilot!
There’s a belief out there called the 10,000-hour rule. You may have heard about it, and you may have even tried it! It basically postulates that doing something for 10,000 hours makes you a master at that thing.
Well, in hot air ballooning, there exists a 10-hour rule. In order to get your private license, you have to spend at least 10 hours in the air. That’s a lot more reasonable than 10,000 hours, right?
Well, it turns out that the 10,000 hour rule is quickly falling out of favor with psychologists. It turns out that becoming an expert has more to do with how you practice than how long you practice.
That holds true for hot air ballooning too. While 10 hours is the technical requirement, there’s actually more than that you need to do in order to become ready for a license test.
If anything, you should look at 10 hours as a minimum. Really, you should evaluate how well you’re progressing in your performance.
That can be difficult because how can you record performance in a log book? Well, that part is really up to you and your instructor. At the end of the day, just know that you’ll spend more than 10 hours of training.
Looking at a lot of pilot’s experiences preparing for their tests, I would recommend you should spend 20 hours in the air on average. Don’t be afraid to spend more time than that if you need it!
Weather, Scheduling, and Other Delays
No matter what you believe in, God, science, the universe, you have to admit that life has a sick sense of humor. Just when you think everything is planned and ready to go, the rug gets pulled out from underneath you.
If George Milton were a real person, he could tell you that even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Such it is with all of the worthwhile endeavors of life, including getting your hot air balloon pilot license. No matter how well you schedule, the unexpected will eventually get in the way.
The first and most common event that will get in the way? Weather. Weather always gets in the way sooner or later. Whether (ha) it’s rain, wind, or sharknado, get ready to miss a flight because of the weather.
The second unexpected obstacle that you should expect is conflicting scheduling. Either you or your instructor will likely have other things going on some point that will push your training back a little bit.
Then there’s everything else. Sickness, insufficient funds, car break downs, habitual tardiness, holidays, and encounters of the third kind are all things that could delay your training.
So, what do you do about these set backs when they occur?
The answer is to be committed. If you’ve decided that getting your pilots license is something you really want to do, then don’t lose sight of that goal.
Now, I’m no life coach, but I’ve been on this rock long enough to know that you don’t give up on long term goals because of short term difficulties. You’ll never succeed with that mentality.
Know that a lot of people have been there before, and you know where they are now? Flying around with their pilot’s license. You can do this! Let your commitment be paramount.
How Much Will it Cost?
About $5,000. Now, there are some situations where it could be cheaper, and some places where it could be more expensive. However, it normally comes to about $5,000.
It’s worth noting that this money is an investment. You’re not just paying $5,000 for a little card, you’re paying for hours and hours of enjoyment and adventure.
There are not a lot of people who can hop in a hot air balloon and fly it! You’ll be in a very unique group of people once you get your license. So it’s not just money down the drain, it’s an investment