There are all sorts of training manuals, guides and official syllabus sort of stuff to help, or maybe hinder and confuse, those that want to take up the sport of ballooning, especially if you want to became a pilot. Forgetting all that stuff, Andy Austin, now an Examiner and who has probably trained up more pilots than Monty Golfer, has put pen to paper and herewith gives some pretty basic sound advice of what you must realise before you even start training….
I thought I would use a little of my new found spare time to give potential new balloon pilots some tips on how best to become a licensed flyer. These tips are based on more than a few years teaching new pilots how to fly. I hope they will help some of you going forwards.
I believe that the most important quality required is determination. They say that anyone who can learn to drive a car can also learn to fly a balloon and I think this is a fair comment, but it does take total dedication at times if you want to succeed. I am happy to say that I have never seen anyone fail to get a balloon pilots licence as long as they have persisted.
Networking will make the process of learning to fly so much easier. Flying a balloon requires a lot of basic skills. None of them are difficult but you will find it so much easier if you make an effort to talk to as many people as you can find who have the required experience. You will discover many ways of learning to fly, talk to people and figure out which will be the best way for you.
It is still possible to become a balloon pilot without being a member of any clubs, however I would strongly recommend that you will get good value and masses of good advice if you join the British Balloon & Airship Club and your local branch of it. When you have joined the BBAC you will receive a bi-monthly magazine that will list all of the regional clubs to help you.
Without a doubt the best pilots spend at least some of their ballooning career as ground crew. This is a very cost effective way of breaking into ballooning and will give you invaluable experience of how most things work. It will also give you exposure to the characters of ballooning that can give you the expert advice that you are looking for. You will need significantly fewer flying lessons if you are a time served ground crew person.
As you start learning to fly I would recommend that you try to organise a flight with a qualified flight instructor as early in the process as is possible. You will soon learn that there are many different ways of doing things. The instructor will show you the ways that will ultimately set you on the right path to gain your private pilots licence.
Making a training flight happen involves a good degree of organisation as well as keeping a very close eye on the weather. When the time comes and everything falls into place make sure that you are prepared. You will find the whole process of learning to fly so much easier if you take the advice and learnings from your previous flights. If for example your last flight involved you agreeing with the training pilot that you will use a pre-flight check list then do it! Alternatively you may well be extending the amount of training flights you need and therefore adding to the cost and potentially running out of season and having to wait until the following year to continue learning. You will find that everyone is trying to help you to achieve your goal. Use the good advice you are being given.
The whole process can be accomplished in one year although you do have two years within which to gain the necessary skills required before you can apply to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for your pilots licence. I have seen many potential pilots become complacent with flying opportunities when the weather is really good. It feels like the chances to fly are endless and often people decide to take a break for whatever else is going on their lives. The season can come to a very abrupt end as early as September sometimes, the chances to fly throughout the winter do exist but they are rare until March when things normally improve.
Finally I would advise that you never give up despite the inevitable set backs. Remember if you are determined you will succeed. Ultimately you will be well rewarded with some truly amazing experiences and a group of friends that will spread far and wide. Stay safe and enjoy.
Andy Austin 2016