AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 72

Would you like to
fly in that beautiful
balloon?

Here's how to get started

JUST A FEW HUNDRED FEET above the ground, the topography of Frederick Municipal
Airport has a serene quality that might elude power pilots busy in the traffic pattern.

tank-a crowd-pleasing step that shoots a
plume of fire 10 feet into the air-packs it
into the gondola, and anchors everything
with a secure cable.
" Now it's time to make a balloon, "
Smith announces.
The navy-blue polyester bag has 24
gores, or vertical seams that form the
shape of the balloon. A smoother surface
like this one requires a higher number of
gores. Those bubbly, bulbous balloons you
see at festivals usually have eight. The panels connected to the gores are stitched at
every one-tenth of an inch; if one panel
tears during flight, the rip will stop at the
next panel and keep the envelope intact to
ensure a safe landing.
Smith secures the gondola to the
ground with a tether before the bag is
inflated. " We are putting up the sails before
we untie from the dock, " Smith says.
Kevin Smith and Demember spread out
the balloon as Smith rolls out a 9-horsepower fan powered by a Honda engine
and fires it up. The balloon lolls, its navyblue mass heaving. When the gondola
is attached and lying on its side in readiness, the burner is turned on. Slowly at
first and then rapidly, the envelope rises
to a full 100 feet, holding about 130,000
cubic feet of air.
" It's a beautiful sight, " says Kevin
Smith, who loves getting up early to help
with the launches. Demember is a science
teacher in Bethesda, Maryland, who said
he enjoys crewing a hot air balloon because
72 | AOPA PILOT June 2021

it gives him practical ways to teach those
concepts to his classes.
Patrick Smith was 4 years old when
he first saw his mom crewing for and flying in a hot air balloon. Years later, while
doing endless circuits in an airplane as a
CFI in Frederick, he spotted a hot air balloon over nearby Mount Airy and longed to
try a different form of flying. He bought a
two-passenger balloon in 2009, intending
to use it for sport flying. Hot air balloons
are not inconspicuous, and while he was
learning to fly it, he got lots of questions
from potential clients. Nine-one-one operators also got lots of calls; nonfliers are
quick to pick up the phone when they see a
balloon landing, assuming that it is " crashing. " Fortunately, those calls have tapered
off, thanks to open communications with
local law enforcement.
The Smiths' business, Tailwinds Over
Frederick, now owns three balloons, including one emblazoned with a Maryland flag
that is a big favorite in a state where diehards plaster the red, white, yellow, and
black colors over every surface they can.
Balloon instructors aren't prevalent,
simply because they can make more money
by selling scenic flights (see " Would You
Like to Fly in that Beautiful Balloon? "
right). Smith worked with Ron Broderick
of Friendship Hot Air Balloon Co. to get the
private pilot LTA and the commercial addons. (No CFI certificate is needed to flight
instruct in a hot air balloon; the FARs give
commercial pilots instructional authority.)

Want to add that LTA category
to your pilot certificate? There
are two ways to do it, according
to balloon pilot Janet Patton of
Denton, Texas: the quick route and
the leisurely route.
The quick route is going to a
dedicated Part 141 flight school
in a good-weather locale such
as Albuquerque, New Mexico,
or St. George, Utah. Flying two
hours a day, many people can
complete the regulatory training
requirements of 10 hours of flight
training in a week. If you have a
private pilot certificate in powered aircraft, you do not need to
take a knowledge test, but you
will complete a practical test with
a designated pilot examiner. No
medical certificate is needed to fly
a hot air balloon.
The leisurely route involves
flying your own balloon at your
own pace. No flight school rents
balloons, but a good, used balloon
setup (envelope, gondola, burner,
and tanks) can be had for $10,000,
and you'll need a trailer or vehicle
to transport the gear. Balloons
are FAA-certificated aircraft that
require annual inspections.
The next challenge is to find an
instructor. Patton wanted to learn
to fly in her region of Texas so that
she could become comfortable
with the weather patterns there,
but it took months of searching and networking within the
ballooning community to make
that happen. She completed her
commercial LTA add-on in March,
and she plans to instruct in hot air
balloons once she has some more
time logged.
Patton, a captain for American
Airlines who also owns a Piper
Cherokee 180, says she loves the
peaceful nature of the sport, and
the social aspect of crewing. But
make no mistake: Hot air balloons
may look easy to fly, Patton says,
but they're not.
" It's a lot of work, " she says. " It's
really difficult. It's much easier to
fly a plane. " 
-JWT



AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 7
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover4
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