Whenever people discover that I fly hot air balloons in Seattle, they always ask the same four questions (in this exact order)...
1. Can you control where you go?
2. Do you need a license?
3. What's the highest you've been in a hot air balloon?
4. How did you get into hot air ballooning?
Typically, people find out that I am a hot air balloon pilot at a party, fundraiser, or cocktail hour. Upon hearing the first question, my wife typically goes off to mingle on the other side of the room, as she has heard my word-for-word answers hundreds of times.
Can you control where you go?
Hot air balloon pilots depend on the wind to navigate, as the wind moves in different directions and speeds at different heights. On the surface, the wind might be going North at 3 knots, at 1000ft it could be going East at 5 knots, and at 3000ft, moving 10 knots South . That's why you'll often see hot air balloons ascend 5000ft, and then drop back down to a few hundred feet. Hot air balloon pilots use a variety of techniques to see the direction of the wind below them--dropping small pieces of paper, spraying shaving cream, or spitting over the side of the basket.
Do you need a license to fly hot air balloons?
Of course! Hot air balloons are aircrafts, and they are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To obtain a pilot's license, applicants must achieve a minimum number of training hours, and then pass an FAA knowledge test, an oral exam and a practical "flight check ride" with an examiner.
What is the highest you've been in a hot air balloon?
Due to the "class B airspace" around Seattle, we typically stay below 5500ft. The highest I've been in a hot air balloon is 10,500ft. In September of 1862, Coxwell and Glaisher ascended to a record-breaking altitude of 39,000 feet with a gas balloon. Seventy years later in 1961, a new record altitude of 113,740 feet was set by Commander Malcolm Ross and Lieutenant Victor A. Prather, Jr. of the US Navy. RedBull Stratos holds the current record of 128,100 from their flight in 2012.
How did you get into hot air ballooning?
The CEO of the company I worked for in college owned a hot air balloon. Because I won a sales contest, I was invited to go on my first balloon ride, shared a 1997 Silver Oak Cabernet, and ultimately fell in love with hot air balloons.
If you'd like to find out more about how you can become a hot air balloon pilot, or would to book a ride or a hot air balloon flight, go to Seattle Ballooning and schedule your flight today.
Photo Credit: Screen shot from Thomas Jøhnk's video of flying at 20k Ft