Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Today is Thursday, October 17, 2013.

There was a hot-air balloon factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, called Aerostar, that was the largest hot-air balloon factory in North America and the second largest in the world before it ceased to build balloons in 2007.  The company is now called Raven Aerostar, and it produces things like custom inflatables, military decoys, parachutes, and surveilance equipment.

A local company called Prairie Sky still gives hot air balloon rides, though, and around sunset we see often see balloons flying above us in Brandon, South Dakota.  I saw one land last summer in a field on the east side of Sioux Falls, which is only about five miles away.  In addition to hot air balloon rides, Prairie Sky offers flight instruction and flight testing for private or commercial certificates in hot air balloons.  They fly the entire year - spring, summer, winter and fall.  Kay West is President and Chief Pilot at Prairie Sky.  She has logged over 1400 hours as Pilot In Command of her hot air balloons, trained more than 10 students, and is the only FAA designated Pilot Examiner for hot air balloons in the State of South Dakota.  

Hot air balloon landing in Sioux Falls
this summer.  Image: Linda LeBoutillier /
Random Thoughts
Up to six passengers can go up in a balloon at one time.  The rides last about an hour, and they originate at sunrise or within two hours of sunset.  They give rides any day of the week, weather permitting.  They don't post the rates on the web site, but I would imagine the cost depends on how many people are riding. Guests are urged to dress appropriately for the ride.  In summer, this means lightweight cotton clothes.  In winter, warm clothes in layers.  Surprisingly, it is sometimes as much as 30 to 40 degrees warmer at altitude than it is on the ground!  Sturdy shoes are recommended for the flight. Before going aloft, guests must sign a release waiver.  

To get a flight certificate for a hot air balloon, you have to spend at least 10 hours in a balloon, including at least six flights with an authorized instructor.  (In South Dakota, that's Kay West.)  One flight must ascend to 2000 feet, and one flight must be a solo flight.  There is a written FAA exam and an FAA flight test.  No medical certificate is required.  Kay says she can go anywhere in the United States, anytime,  to give the test, as long as she has enough notice.  

I've always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon.  Pictures of colorful balloons have enchanted me for many years, and I used to have a really neat poster in my classroom that said, "The sky's the limit."  (And since the sky has no limit... there are no limits!)   I don't think I'm cut out to be a hot air balloon pilot, but I really do want to ride in a balloon sometime.  Looks like I just added something to my "bucket list."  :-)

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