Getting to 20

First printed in Aeronotes (Official Journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation) Volume 35 No 3 (September, 2013). Links to sites added for this online version.

To say that there was an element of surprise in my mind when I passed my check ride last year at The Lake would be an understatement. I think I knew it would happen as, in hindsight, even though I felt pretty rough & ham-handed, I was ready & could fly a hot air balloon. At the time, however, I felt there was still so much to learn, especially around the fine control of altitude and the masterful art of nailing a landing spot.

When my certificate was handed to me (along with a beaut set of wings – go BAV! :) ) I must admit that a nagging feeling of “Now what???” was mixed in with the elation & pride at having advanced to the ranks of certificated aeronaut. The wide world of ballooning now beckoned me to come out & play with all the thrill, nerves & trepedation associated with standing on the very edge of the highest diving board at an olympic class pool.

A variety of thoughts raced through my head whenever I thought of heading out to get some altitude, including:

  • Where should I go to get my first flight?
  • I can’t believe I’m going to do this!!!
  • Who would I get to crew?
  • What balloon would I fly?
  • Do I really have what it takes to do this?

The all-too familiar phrase of “You now have a license to learn” played in my head and I knew I had to step out & get learning.

First up, though, I considered what could go wrong if I were to just head out & start flying:

1) Lack of weather experience might mean I could miss signs of conditions that could lead to tricky/dangerous flights

2) My local knowledge was rather low in the Southern Victorian region as the majority of my hours had been accumulated up at Mildura with only about 4 flights being at Benalla & Wangaratta.

3) Once I got started flying, over time bad habits could be established & habits learned early are often hard to break

4) The majority of my flying to date had been in a 77 yet my certificate allowed my to jump in a 105 or 120 and go see what happened.

Given these points, I felt it best to spend my first few flights going up in the company of other balloonists who could help refine my weather skills, supply local knowledge and nudge me towards good habits & skills. While I had access to other pilots through my membership in BAV, my employment with Picture This Ballooning meant I also had access to their commercial pilots. This also made it easier for me to get access to balloons & gear although now that BAV is buying a balloon, a major hurdle is being cleared for us newbies in the southern lands (go BAV! :) )

To this end I have made a few flights alongside commercial pilots when they have been flying passengers at Bendigo, Riddles Creek, Maryborough & Mansfield. I’ve also flown in the company of private pilots a couple of times at Benalla & even had the chance to share a basket & log some burner time over Western Sydney on Australia Day :)

I have also had two flights where an experienced pilot was in the basket with me to give me a “check flight” on a different & larger balloon. In both cases I was able to get used to flying the larger balloon and deal with the different systems (vents, burners, etc) without intervention but it was good to have another pilot on board who could give advice & monitor my flying.

As a result I have now logged just over 13 hours of PIC time in a variety of locations & conditions, building my knowledge while also boosting my confidence, I’ve stretched my boundaries in manageable increments and experienced some conditions I may otherwise have missed. Discussions with other pilots before & after the flights have helped correct a few habits and have also improved the learning experience from each flight.

My instructors & the ABF training course brought me to a point where I was able to fly a balloon on my own. My flights in the company of other pilots have built upon that foundation and helped this newbie gain confidence and awareness in a fun & supportive manner. I thank all the pilots who have helped me get to this point and highly recommend flying in the company of others, especially when you’re a low-hour pilot. You can learn, grow and have fun in the process and the more the merrier at those all important post-flight brekkies :)

First printed in Aeronotes (Official Journal of the Australian Ballooning Federation) Volume 35 No 3 (September, 2013). Links to sites added for this online version.

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