What it takes to become a balloon pilot

Posted at 7:51 PM, May 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-19 17:03:03-04

Like many balloonists, seeing a balloon in flight for the first time was enough to inspire pilots like Steve Andrews to take up the craft. After a trip to New Mexico's Balloon Fiesta Steve and his wife Kim return to Maryland with a new passion and thrill for flying, and although the concept of flying a hot air balloons is simple – It takes extensive training.

"There's a lot of studying you know you got to go to pilot school for lighter than air aircraft is totally different and fix way so you are taking courses from an instructor all the rules apply that the FAA lays out for you," said Steve Andrews, hot air balloon pilot for Sky Candy. 

Steve says anyone thinking of getting their license will have to be prepared for hard work. It's a challenge that his youngest crew member, Matthew is eager to take on. A junior balloonist who is working on his pilot’s license now, while most teenagers are simply trying to get their driver's license.

"I started when I was four crewing. I then started training when I was 14 and I'm 16 right now. Hopefully sometime this year I can get my license," junior balloonist Matthew Hodgdon said.

Matthew is just one of the many crew members needed for balloon set up - each member offers a helping hand to ensure a safe takeoff, flight and landing. Weather plays the most important role of all.

"We don't want anything within a hundred miles of rain so we also want to know the different cloud types, different fronts and different things that could possibly happen," Matthew said.

Since hot air balloons are at the mercy of the weather. Steve's team keeps up with the weather patterns and wind speeds not only for Maryland but its surrounding states as well. Ideally they look for a high-pressure forecast with clear skies and light winds from the surface to roughly 10,000 feet. When the weather is calm and conditions are safe for flight, the team works together preparing the balloon by laying it out in the direction the wind is blowing.

"We have it all spread out we start cold air inflating it with this large fan right here and once we get it real nice and fat with the fan, that's when we give it the heat," Steve said.

The 120,000 cubic feet of Ripstop Nylon has no problem holding the heat generated by these burners as the heat builds the balloon stands and it's ready for takeoff.