How do you become a FAA Certified Hot Air Balloon Pilot?

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “How do you become a Hot Air  Balloon Pilot? What does it take?” Becoming a hot air balloon pilot involves several steps, but it’s a rewarding journey for those passionate about flying. Here’s a breakdown:

Start as a Balloon Crew Person: Volunteering or working as part of a hot air balloon chase crew provides invaluable experience. As a chase crew member, you’ll assist with balloon setup, inflation, launch, chase, and pack-up. This hands-on involvement exposes you to the operational aspects of hot air ballooning, helps you understand safety protocols, flight decision process and allows you to observe experienced pilots in action.

Meet FAA Requirements: To pursue a hot air balloon pilot license in the United States, you must meet certain Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. The FAA regulates all pilot licensing. Hot air balloons are in the Lighter than air category. Each applicant must pass an Airman’s Knowledge test specific to the Pilot rating requested, receive a minimum number of training hours, also specific to the rating, perform a solo flight in the aircraft taking instruction in and pass a Practical flight test with a Pilot Examiner. It sounds overwhelming but it’s not really that hard to do. There are online practice tests to take and online test preparation that make it easier.

Student Balloon Pilot License: At age 14, you are able to get your Student Pilot License. You don’t have to hold a Student license to start training but you do have to have it to perform your solo flight and to complete your flight instruction. Being a Student allows you to fly solo with instructor endorsement, under specific conditions and take your written test (Airman’s Knowledge test). 

Get Balloon Pilot Training: There are different ways to complete your flight training. Enrolling in a FAA-approved 141 balloon pilot training program is the fastest way to complete the learning process. You can also take it slower and join a Balloon team and learn from the Pilot each time you go out. The Pilot must hold a Commercial Hot air balloon pilots license to be able to log your training. The most common way is to contract a local Balloon ride company who also has a training program in place. Either way you choose, all training involves ground school instruction covering regulations, weather, navigation, and safety, as well as hands-on flight training. 

Private Balloon Pilot License:, To be eligible for a Private Hot air balloon pilot license, you must be at least 16 years old, proficient in English, pass a written examination, have at least 10 hours of flight time logged with at least 6 lessons logged with a Balloon flight instructor. When you and your instructor feel you are ready, you go to the final step and  apply for a Practical flight test, also called the Check-ride. This is done with an FAA authorized Pilot Examiner who is trained in Balloon flight.

Commercial Balloon Pilot License: If you aspire to fly balloons commercially (for hire or compensation), you’ll need to upgrade to a commercial balloon pilot license. This rating will also make you a Flight instructor. This involves acquiring additional flight experience. You must log a minimum of 35 hours as Pilot in command (PIC). Most people will apply for a Commercial check ride around 35-50 hours total time as PIC. As with the Private, completing additional advanced training, passing a more comprehensive written test and performing another solo are required. The commercial Check-ride, being somewhat more detailed, evaluates your ability to conduct commercial balloon operations safely and competently as well as instruct and ready new students for their Check-ride.

Continued Learning: Balloon pilots must stay current with FAA regulations, industry best practices, and safety guidelines. This involves participating in recurrent training programs, attending seminars, workshops, and staying informed about developments in balloon technology and aviation safety.

If you have any questions on becoming a Balloon pilot, please reach out to us by email or direct phone call.

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