To become a better balloon pilot takes practice, but what should you practice? It is difficult to know because every balloon flight is different. You can improve physical skills by repetitious practice. Do the same thing over and over and you can only get better.

How do you practice when you do not know what direction you will go? How do you practice when you do not know when, where, or how you will land? The fact that there are so many variables in the art of ballooning means you must invent your practice as you go along.

Learning to fly a balloon is similar to learning to drive a car. The beginning driver grips the steering wheel tightly, stares down the road, and works very hard to keep the car between the lines. As the driver becomes more adept, he or she can steer with one hand, carry on a conversation with a passenger, enjoy the scenery, and be much more relaxed while still controlling the car and being a good motorist. Flying a balloon is similar. The better you do it, the more you can enjoy it.

Making tasks for yourself is a way to practice, become a better pilot, and to have fun. For instance, on one flight maybe you will decide to play follow the leader or hare and hound with a friend in another balloon. The other pilot does not even need to know you are trying to follow.

If winds are quite variable, maybe you can make a return flight. You do not necessarily need a box wind to land back at the launch site. Maybe you can contour fly in a direction opposite to the normal prevailing direction, and then when the regular wind starts to come up, fly back to the starting place. It happens.

Even when it is too early to land, you can practice making approaches to landing, "Can I hit that road? Could I land next to that other balloon? Can I fly in the opposite direction of the other balloons? Can I fly 1 foot above the lake without hitting the water?" These are all targets of opportunity tasks we can use to hone our skills.

Some other tasks to practice are making a rapid descent to a small field for a soft landing, simulating a high-wind landing, climbing or descending at a given rate to a specific altitude, and making a constant-rate descent to a landing.

Flying to a landing site selected before launch, or making a long-distance flight are more ambitious tasks.

Do not give up too soon once you have set a task. If your selected task does not seem possible, stick to it long enough to be sure it was impossible.

Entering and flying in balloon competitions can improve skills. However, dropping a marker on a target is nowhere near as satisfying as being able to land where you choose. Landing a balloon in a safe, legal, appropriate place; however, seems to be a task observed only in a negative way. Many competitions only tell you where not to land. There are some tasks that will help you improve your basic skills, and you always have the right to ignore those that do not.

Your goal is to develop skills that allow you to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for yourself and your passengers.


A good aviation instructor must master many skills and fields of knowledge. What is taught demands technical competence and how the teaching is accomplished depends upon the instructor's understanding of how people learn and the ability to apply that understanding.

The FAA believes that knowledge and understanding, as well as skill, are essential to safety in flight.

Proficient instructors are necessary for the proper development of balloon pilots. Finding the best instructor is a worthwhile goal.

In addition to demonstrating skill in flying a balloon, a good flight instructor must know and practice the principles of safe ballooning, and be able to communicate knowledge and understanding to students.

A training program is dependent upon the quality of the ground and flight instruction the student pilot receives. An instructor should have a thorough understanding of the learning process, knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching, and the ability to communicate effectively with the student pilot.

A good instructor will use a syllabus and insist on correct techniques and procedures from the beginning of training so the student will develop proper habit patterns.

The FAA has several books relative to flight training. However, a good flight instructor should study and be familiar with FAA-H-8083-9, Aviation Instructor's Handbook, which contains information about the psychology of learning and suggested teaching procedures. Balloon Publishing Company's, Balloon Instructor Manual and Balloon Federation of America's, Flight Instructor Manual are also useful tools for the instructor. They contain suggested curriculums and lesson plans, in addition to information on duties and responsibilities and instructions for required endorsements and forms.

Good instructors are active pilots who exercise their skills regularly and continue to learn. A commercial pilot who flies very little each year must spend too much time remembering his or her own skills and procedures to be able to instruct well.

A good instructor keeps current and accurate records for each student. This is required by 14 CFR part 61, and ensures that nothing is omitted from the course of training.

Your instructor should be available to complete your course of training within a reasonable period of time. Training stretched out over many months is far less effective than training completed within a managed period of time. The student often forgets what has been learned and the instructor forgets what has been taught.

One of the most important skills an instructor should possess is the ability to communicate. Use of appropriate language and the selection of terminology help considerably in the transfer of information.

Look for an instructor who has a wide range of knowledge on ballooning. Knowing what reference material is available and where to find it is also important.

Remember that learning is an individual process. An instructor cannot do it for you by pouring knowledge into your head. You can only learn from individual experiences. A good instructor should allow the student to experience the controls at an early stage of flight training. This will give the student a better understanding of what is expected. Too many instructors teach on the principle of "watch me..." A student learning from a hands-on approach will receive better training. As instructors gain confidence and experience, they will improve their ability to transfer their knowledge and skill to students.

 ŠAvStop Online Magazine                                                                                                                                                       Contact Us              Return To Books

AvStop Aviation News and Resource Online Magazine

Grab this Headline Animator