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
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
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
WHAT IS A GOOD INSTRUCTOR
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
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
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
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.