Chief Pilot

Eliav Cohen

“Ballooning is the closest thing to magic I've found on this earth. And I love magic!”

- Eliav Cohen

Hey there! Eliav here, the once tech-guru turned sky-sailor at the helm of Seattle Ballooning. My transition from the world of high-tech software sales to navigating the vast, open skies in a hot air balloon is a tale of rediscovery, passion, and a bit of serendipity. It all sparked to life with a single flight back in 2009. Since that pivotal moment, I’ve logged over 1000 hours amongst the clouds, ventured into the thrilling realm of hydrogen balloon flying, and now, come September, I’ll be taking part in the event that marks the pinnacle of any balloonist’s career: Competing at The World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Hungary.

Imagine this: competing in a hot air balloon. It sounds surreal, right? Each country selects only two pilots for this prestigious event. It’s not a race against time but a battle of wits, strategy, and precision. Picture the meticulous aim required in golf, the intimate dance with the wind reminiscent of sailing, and the adrenaline-pumping excitement you’d find in NASCAR. Now, imagine 115 of us in the sky, each trying to maneuver our balloons to drop a sandbag onto a target just 10 feet wide from miles out. This competition is the ultimate test of skill and nerve, and it’s a profound honor to represent not just my country but the amazing team at Seattle Ballooning.

But let’s dial back for a moment to where my ballooning saga began. The journey kicked off with a sales contest win that led to a flight ascending to 10,000 feet to greet the sunrise. The experience was transcendent, far beyond the breathtaking views or the exquisite wine we toasted with. It offered a glimpse into a life of boundless adventure driven by a CEO who lived daringly. That flight wasn’t just an adventure; it was the first step on a path that would redefine my very existence. Ballooning swiftly transitioned from a burgeoning interest to a visceral passion and, ultimately, my way of life.

Fast forward to the present, and Seattle Ballooning has evolved from my solitary flights to a vibrant team capable of lifting 76 souls into the skies each day. It’s a privilege to lead such a dedicated group of pilots and support staff, each of whom shares a deep love for the sky and a commitment to creating unforgettable experiences.

So, why do I fly? The answer is as simple as it is profound. I fly for the sheer joy of it. The unparalleled thrill of sharing the magic of flight, set against the stunning backdrop of the Cascades and Mt. Rainier, is something that never grows old. Despite my own aversion to heights (yes, it’s true!), being in a balloon feels like being in another world—one where my fears dissolve into thin air, and a sense of peace and exhilaration takes over. Sharing this unique sensation with my dad, who’s equally apprehensive about heights, and witnessing his transformation from apprehension to joy is a testament to the power and allure of ballooning.

Another wild experience as a balloon pilot is being part of so many people’s private, intimate moments. Imagine flying a balloon as someone bends the knee and holds out a ring against the backdrop of a golden sunrise. Proposals in a hot air balloon are magical, surreal even. There’s something about being suspended between the earth and sky that adds weight to the moment, making it feel like the world has paused just for them. I’ve been lucky enough to pilot for hundreds of couples as they embark on their journey. Witnessing the tears, the joy, and the overwhelming love at 5,000 feet reminds me of why I fly.

Flying guests on their big days is something else! When we’re up there, it’s not just about the views. I’ve watched kids peer over the basket on their birthdays in awe, absolutely buzzing with excitement. And adults? They get this look in their eyes like they’re seeing the world fresh and new.

Then there’s the bucket list crowd. The moment we lift off, you can almost feel their spirits soar. Whether it’s shaking free of old fears or celebrating a win, it’s like up there, they’re untouchable.

And anniversaries – those are just pure. It’s just the two of them and the open sky, a chance to breathe and just be together, away from all the noise.

On a more somber note, I’ve been part of flights that serve as memorials or celebrations of life. These journeys are deeply moving, serving as a tribute to loved ones lost but not forgotten. Floating above the earth, we’re reminded of the beauty of life, the transient nature of our existence, and the memories that tether us to those we’ve lost. These flights are cathartic, offering peace and a moment of connection between the earth and the heavens.

Flying is not just about the mechanics of air currents and weather patterns; it’s about the human experience. It’s about sharing moments of joy, achievement, love, and even loss, in a setting that transcends the everyday. Each flight is a reminder of the beauty of the world, the complexity of human emotions, and the incredible privilege of being part of such significant moments in people’s lives. This is why I fly. It’s a calling that brings with it the weight and wonder of shared humanity.

This year holds particular significance for me. Beyond the excitement of the World Championship, we’ve embarked on a new venture with our luxury hot air balloon tours in Europe. If the beauty of our local flights has moved you, wait until you experience the majesty of soaring over the Swiss Alps. It’s a dream that’s been years in the making, now coming to fruition, promising an unparalleled adventure for those who join us.

When I’m not in the sky, my fascination with balloon history takes center stage. My collection of memorabilia from the golden age of ballooning speaks volumes about my dedication to this timeless craft. It’s not just about collecting artifacts; it’s about preserving the stories, the innovations, and the spirit of adventurers past. Engaging with the community, sharing safety knowledge, and diving into the rich tapestry of ballooning history are what fuels my passion off the clock.

Whether you’re drawn to the thrill of competition, in search of a unique adventure, or simply curious to see the world from a new perspective, I invite you to reach out and book a flight with us. As I prepare for the World Championship, each flight is a step in a journey that I’m eager to share. Join me and the Seattle Ballooning team as we embrace the skies, pursue precision, and celebrate the monumental moments of life, all elevated by the serene beauty of ballooning. Here’s to the adventures that elevate us, the dreams that propel us forward, and the shared experiences that bring us together. Let’s turn those dreams into a breathtaking reality.