You’ve gone skydiving a few times and you’re looking to change things up. If possible, you’d much rather exit from a hot air balloon than a plane, as you’ve heard it’s quite a unique experience. Can you skydive from a balloon and if so, what do you need?
Yes, you can skydive from a hot air balloon, but you must have a skydiving license at a level B or higher. You’ll also need a packing card that proves you’ve packed your parachute within the last six months.
Ahead, we’ll elaborate more on skydiving from a hot air balloon, including what it feels like and the rules to follow. This can be a very fun, memorable jump, but you have to be safe, and we’ll help you do that in this article.
What Does Skydiving from a Hot Air Balloon Feel Like? What Makes It Different from Skydiving Out of a Plane?
What’s the appeal of skydiving from a hot air balloon, anyway? It turns out, plenty! When jumping from a plane, you generate what’s known as relative wind. This is an aeronautics term that refers to the atmosphere’s movement direction compared to the movement direction of the plane itself.
Usually, when skydiving out of a plane, the plane is facing forward. This causes horizontal relative wind as you jump. Then aerodynamic drag changes the momentum of the relative wind. Simultaneously, gravity is pulling you down through the air. The combination of these forces changes the relative wind direction from horizontal to vertical.
What results is an arc that some skydivers say is like the flow of water from a horizontal low-pressure garden hose.
When skydiving from a hot air balloon, there is no relative wind. This reduces the pressure as you exit the balloon compared to jumping from the lip of a plane. You’ll feel out of control, like you’re in complete freefall. This sensation is known as a dead air exit and it’s what keeps skydivers coming back for more when they jump out of a hot air balloon.
The dead air exit sensations are short-lived, we’ll have you know. You are attached to a parachute, after all, so the weightlessness of a freefall descent is only until you reach a certain point. Then you can pull open your parachute and float back to land just as you would when skydiving from a plane.
Here’s another interesting difference that’s not accounted for enough. Relative wind, besides creating pressure, also generates noise. Without that wind, those first few seconds of jumping out of a hot air balloon can be scary silent. This too doesn’t last, especially as you gain speed during your freefall descent, but it’s definitely a noteworthy part of the experience!
Do You Need a License to Skydive from a Hot Air Balloon?
If you want to skydive, must you get a license before your trip? Skydivers who want to jump solo and enjoy more experiences in the sky should get at least a B license. The United States Parachute Association issues skydiving licenses.
Due to the very noticeable differences when skydiving from a hot air balloon versus a plane, only more experienced divers should attempt.
Let’s talk about the types of skydiving licenses as well as how to obtain them.
The A license is a beginner-level certification. If you want to earn this license, you have to take a course approved through the United States Parachute Association or USPA. If you pass that, you next have to work with instructors and coaches, jumping in a variety of ways to show off the skills you’ve learned.
The second level of skydiving licenses is the B license. You’ll need to enroll in a canopy course and jump at least 50 times to get this certification. You’ll be expected to know plenty of landing and flying maneuvers, including water landings.
When you get to 100 jumps, you’re now eligible to work as a coach helping those trying to earn their A licenses.
If you’ve jumped at least 200 times, then you can upgrade to a C license. By now, you’re skilled enough that you can land within range of a target even if that target is smaller. You’ll have the privilege of recording your jumps with a GoPro or another camera. If you’re interested in wingsuit flying, you can do that with a C license as well.
You can even become a USPA instructor as well as do some demonstration jumps for entertainment.
If you’ve proceeded all the way up the skydiving licensure totem pole, then you’ll eventually get your D license. You’ll have first needed to complete 500 jumps. If you’re a pro-rated D-license holder, you can do exhibitions and more grandiose demonstration jumps, such as those with pyrotechnics and/or flags.
Rules for Hot Air Balloon Skydiving
For skydiving from a hot air balloon to be a safe, enjoyable experience, both diver and balloon pilot must follow pre-established rules. These rules can vary somewhat depending on the ballooning company, but these are the generally established guidelines.
Check Diver Documentation
Do the skydivers have a B license in skydiving or higher? Is the license current? Is every diver licensed? Ask for the divers’ packing cards as well. A packing card indicates that the diver packed their parachute in the past six months at least. The parachute should be in working order.
Ask for Proof of Balloon Pilot Documentation
Hot air balloon pilots are certified with an airman’s certificate or a pilot license. Both certifications are issued through the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. As we’ve discussed elsewhere on the blog, balloon pilots have to pass training and testing specific to flying a hot air balloon versus other types of aircraft.
It’s always a good idea to double-check that your balloon pilot has their license even though they shouldn’t ever fly without it.
Have a Briefing Ahead of the Jump
You should never just jump after the documentation check. Instead, the next step should be a briefing with the balloon pilot. During the briefing, you plan for and rehearse how you’ll jump out of the plane, including the exact position you’ll skydive from.
Get into Jump Position
The jump position is important when leaping from a hot air balloon. You need to be in a spot where you’re at no risk of colliding with any crown lines or rip lines. The side of the basket nearest to you should be as free as possible of obstructions. The balloon pilot might have to rig their setup so the control lines are pulled off to the side.
Time Your Jump
The balloon pilot will select a safe place for you to skydive, one that’s not near any high-tension power wires, sizable bodies of water, or significant shifts in terrain. When the balloon pilot gives you the signal to jump, you’ll have to act right then and there.
The altitude at which you jump is also of paramount concern to the balloon pilot. Your altitude will vary depending on which license you have. If you’re a B-level licensed skydiver, then you can jump from 3,500 feet. If you have a C license, it’s 3,000 feet.
To make the jump, inch yourself up to the basket’s edge. Grip the burner frame and then go for it!
Don’t Release Your Parachute Right Away
Once you’re out of the hot air balloon and freefalling through the air, you mustn’t release your parachute prematurely. Pulling on the parachute too early may cause issues with the chute, which is not what you want when you’re 3,000+ feet up in the air with only the parachute to guide you to solid ground.
If you’re a B license holder, then by 3,000 feet, you should have deployed your parachute, and for C license holders, it’s between 1,500 and 2,500 feet.
Can I Schedule My Hot Air Balloon Skydive Anytime of the Day?
Hot air balloon companies do accommodate interested skydivers, but less often than the average ballooner. Therefore, if you want to skydive from a balloon, it’s not a bad idea to call or email the hot air balloon company early and give them a heads up.
Don’t be surprised if you can’t schedule your hot air balloon ride anytime you want. Certain weather is safest for skydiving from a balloon, such as very low winds and otherwise still conditions. You’ll see this weather most often early in the morning as well as later in the afternoon before sunset, so be ready to skydive at those times!
You can skydive from a hot air balloon provided you have a B-level skydiving license or higher. If you ask any skydiver who’s done it, they’ll tell you how exhilarating it is to dive from a hot air balloon compared to a plane. Now it’s time to experience those thrills for yourself!