How Long Does it Take to Become a Hot Air Balloon Pilot?

So you want to become a hot air balloon pilot? Good for you! Being able to fly your own hot air balloon is an incredibly rewarding experience. The process to become a hot air balloon pilot requires a fair amount of money, time, and dedication.

Becoming a hot air balloon pilot can take a few weeks or over a year depending on how committed a student pilot is. There are several requirements to be met, including 10 hours of free flight in a balloon. There is also a lot of book study that must be done to be prepared for the pilot’s license test.

While it is possible to get a pilot’s license very fast, most people take several months before they get their license. Being aware of the potential distractions and challenges can be very helpful as you begin on this journey!

Time Requirments

When you’re thinking about becoming a hot air balloon pilot, the first question you need to ask yourself is: what are the requirements? It’s especially important to look at time-bound requirements.

At the outset, we should note that this article is taking a look at becoming a hot air balloon pilot in the United States. In particular, we’re looking at getting a private pilot license.

Different countries have different laws and regulations that need to be followed. If you’re from another country, look into what requirements you’ll have to complete to get a license where you live!

Private Pilot License Requirments

With that having been said, let’s look at some of the requirements:

  • A person must be 16 years of age.
  • They must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.
  • They must have 10 hours of flight training that includes one ascent to 2,000 feet, one solo flight, 6 flights with an instructor, and flights lasting over an hour (which must be completed within 60 days of applying for certification).
  • Must pass the FAA knowledge test (written) and the practical knowledge test (oral and hands-on).

Several of the requirements are time-bound and several are not. Let’s separate the two and talk about how long each takes.

Turning sixteen is obviously time-bound. If you’re fifteen, you’ll just have to wait until you’re sixteen. There’s no way around this one. However, most people looking into becoming a pilot are already over the age of sixteen.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need to worry about being able to read, speak, write, or understand English. No time requirement there!

The ten hours of flight is the most apparent time-bound requirement. You have to spend ten hours doing flight training. Most often, these ten hours will be spaced out over several weeks or months.

Actually passing the tests required by the FAA doesn’t take too long, but preparing for them sure can! This may be the biggest variable in trying to determine how long it will take to become a hot air balloon pilot.

These requirements are very important, so don’t rush through them!

Unspoken Requirments

Aside from the legal requirements set up the FAA, I’ll add in some “unspoken requirements”. These don’t have to be accomplished, but they’ll definitely help!

These are like the unspoken requirements of getting into your dream college or getting your dream job. There’s more to it than just what you read online!

In this case, you actually can read about the unspoken requirements online! You’re welcome!

A lot of flight schools know that there’s more to do than just check off the boxes established by the FAA, so they’ll help you with these things. They might even have some other unspoken requirements!

This is also where a lot of time gets added to the process. In sports, this is what we call the “intangibles”. They’re hard to define or record, but they make all the difference in the end!

Getting Comfortable

The National Institute of Mental Health calculates that 25% of adult Americans feel some apprehension about the flight, and 6.5% have a legitimate fear of flying.

Now, if you want to get your pilot’s license, you probably aren’t scared of flight. If you are, it’s great that you’re facing your fears! Either way, it’s important to feel comfortable up in the air.

Getting a pilot’s license is a lot like getting a driver’s license. It’s great to know everything you should know about driving, but it doesn’t help if you aren’t comfortable behind the wheel of a car.

It can be deadly if a driver seizes up on the freeway and loses control because they’re afraid. The same is true of flying a hot air balloon. You need to be comfortable!

There’s no way to measure how long it will take you to become comfortable! Just keep flying and studying and it will come to you!

Gaining an Appreciation

Having an appreciation for hot air balloons means fully understanding a hot air balloons capacity. Both its capacity to entertain and to be dangerous.

Hot air balloons are awesome in size, ability, and potential. They’re these huge contraptions that follow very basic laws of physics to fly thousands of feet above the earth.

As a pilot, you’ll be in charge of operation this awesome contraption. You need to take that responsibility seriously, and that involves gaining an appreciation for hot air ballooning.

Just like getting comfortable with flying, there’s no way to know how long this could take. A great way to gain an appreciation for hot air balloons is to spend more time around them as a passenger or crew member!

Actually Being Prepared

The final “intangible” or unspoken requirement is actually being prepared. This may sound like a no brainer, but it’s actually super important to keep in mind.

The FAA requirements should be viewed as a baseline or a minimum. They ensure that not just anyone applies for a private pilot license. But there’s a lot more preparation that could be done.

There’s no need to rush through this process. In fact, it’s probably better if you take it a little slow! If you feel uncomfortable taking the tests, then just wait a little bit!

Ted Williams, a famous American baseball player, made a living “waiting for the right pitch”. He knew that swinging at the wrong pitch would result in a poor hit, so he would wait until the right pitch came to him!

Unfortunately, after the ball gets through the strike zone three times, you’re out whether you for the “right pitch or not”. Unlike baseball, there are no called strikes in hot air ballooning.

You can wait as long as you need to for the time to be right! Just wait for your pitch to come for you. Wait until you’re actually prepared!

Obstacles and Distractions

At this point, you may be thinking it’s pretty easy to get a pilot’s license. It’s probably looking like an easy step-by-step process that anyone can follow! Perhaps you’re thinking it’s kind of like this:

All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other until you become a hot air balloon pilot! Easy, right? Well, as it turns out, life is never that simple.

Robert Burns was spot on when he wrote, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. If getting a hot air balloon pilot’s license was this easy, it would take no time at all!

In fact, there would be no need for this article. There could be a definite amount of time it takes to get a pilot’s license. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

Along the way, there will be many, many challenges to overcome. There will also be plenty of distractions that will lead you off course. In reality, the path to getting your license looks more like this:

As you can see, there’s a lot that stands between you and your goal of becoming a pilot. Each of these distractions and obstacles adds time to your journey!

Let’s talk about some of the most prevalent obstacles and see how you can overcome each of them!

Scheduling Conflicts

Ah, the challenge of adulthood: scheduling conflicts. Scheduling conflicts include a wide array of circumstances: vacations, sick days, work, family reunions, sporting events, piano recitals, and so forth.

It is inevitable that you’ll run into some scheduling conflicts along the way. Some are going to be really obvious and consistent, while others will be rare occurrences.

For instance, it goes without saying that you can’t just take work off for a month to get your pilot’s license. You’ll probably have to fly mostly on the weekends. That’ll be pretty consistent.

But then maybe one Saturday your instructor is out of town. Maybe you come down with a bad case of the black plague. Perhaps there’s a holiday that overlaps with one of your lessons. Such is life.

The best way to deal with scheduling conflicts is to plan well in advance, communicate with your instructor, and make ballooning a priority.

Sooner or later there will be a scheduling conflict, but you can avoid most issues by following those simple suggestions!


Of all the things the might get in the way of your training, the weather is number one. The only people who might get a pass on this one are our friends down in sunny southern California.

But for the rest of us mortals, the weather is a pretty common irritant. This is especially true for hot air balloons because even a windy day can shut down all the fun!

Thankfully, because of modern technology, we can know well in advance when there is going to be bad weather. It then becomes easy to schedule training days accordingly.

Of course, technology isn’t perfect. If it was, it probably would’ve already wiped us, humans, out. So even with excellent preparation, don’t be surprised if your training gets a little delayed due to weather!

Losing Confidence

Hot air ballooning isn’t always easy, especially if you’re just learning about it! There’s a lot to do and remember. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the new information!

Plus, you’re not just learning about hot air balloons. You’re learning about how to be a hot air balloon pilot. The pressure is, literally and metaphorically, massive!

There have been plenty of people who wasted a lot of time only going for their pilot’s license half-hearted because they lost confidence. That doesn’t have to be you! You don’t need to waste time!

Having confidence in yourself and in your instructor will accelerate your growth. You’ll be more willing to try hard things and your positive attitude will turn into positive results.

We’ll discuss being committed a little bit later, but it’s important to note that confidence and commitment are different. Commitment keeps you in the saddle for the long haul no matter what while confidence accelerates you along the way.

Commitment is key, especially on the hard days, but confidence is how you can handle situations moment to moment. Be confident and the whole process will go a lot faster!

Money and Time

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can buy time. A really wise way to look at money is as a resource that gives you more time to do what you want. This is especially applicable in trying to become a hot air balloon pilot.

Of course, having a lack of money can be a huge obstacle to actually getting your pilot’s license. Getting a license actually can cost a fair amount of money, and running out of funds can really slow you down.

When thinking about getting a pilot’s license, there’s a number of ways to approach to the money issue. Each one will have a serious impact on how much time it’ll end up taking to get a license.

In each approach, there are basically two main costs to be aware of: the cost for gear and the cost for lessons. How should you approach these costs, and how will your approach affect how much time you spend getting a license?

Let’s take a closer look at each approach so you can make a more informed decision about what you want to do!

Buy Everything

This is the fastest and most direct approach to getting a hot air balloon pilots license. Buying everything means that you literally buy everything. Buy the hot air balloon, get all the equipment, pay for the best instructor, just buy everything.

The only thing you shouldn’t buy is the license itself. That’s called bribery and it’s against the law.

If you’re in a position to do this, then I would definitely recommend it. One of the biggest perks of this approach is that you get to keep your hot air balloon after you have your license!

You’ll already be familiar with your balloon from the training, and with your brand new pilot’s license, you’ll be able to fly pretty much whenever you want!

In terms of training, having your own equipment is great because you can practice whenever your instructor is free. And if you’re paying your instructor enough, that probably be whenever you want.

I’m also going to go ahead and assume if you have the money to take this approach, you probably have the money to fly whenever you want. This means you’ll be less likely to run into scheduling conflicts.

Most people won’t have the resources for this approach, so let’s jump to the next one!

Get the Package Deal

Getting the package deal is probably the most common approach to getting a pilot’s license. Basically, you work with a flight school to get your license, and they offer you a package deal on equipment and training.

Of course, this equipment isn’t actually yours, and the flight school is only open when it’s open. That makes this approach slower than “buy everything”, but it’s a very steady approach in terms of time.

Most likely, you’ll come in once a week for some training and practice. Some schools will charge everything upfront, but some are “pay as you go”. Pick which one works best for your budget!

Of course, if you run out of money at a “pay as you go” school, you’re training is basically halted. So do plan in advance for how much you’ll owe each pay period.

In general, this approach will get you your license in a relatively short amount of time. It’s a very consistent approach that has worked incredibly well for thousands and thousands of people!

If you find that this approach still falls outside of your budget, there is still one more approach that might just work for you!

Do What You Can When You Can

This approach is very similar to the “pay as you go” flight schools, but it’s even less rigid in scheduling. This is the approach you take if you just catch whatever training you can whenever you can.

A great way to do this approach is to be a crew member for a local hot air balloon company. This will give you valuable experience and will open the doors of opportunity to you!

Who knows, maybe you’ll even make friends with an instructor who will teach you at a discounted rate! In any case, this is definitely the slowest and cheapest approach of the three.

There’s no real schedule for this approach. Just do what you can when you can. Take every opportunity you can, and eventually, you’ll make it as a hot air balloon pilot!

Being Committed

Getting your pilot’s license can take a really long time. Maybe you have a really full schedule or you have to travel a far way to fly. The reality is that most people take several months to get their license.

Being committed to the process is super important because it will keep you going no matter how long it takes. Being committed is a force much more powerful than any motivational system or incentive scheme.

If you’re committed to something, it doesn’t matter if the chips are down. You’re going to keep going because you can tell the end from the beginning.

If being a hot air balloon pilot is really what you want to do, decide today to be committed to that goal. Below, we’ll discuss some ways to stay committed throughout the whole process.

Write It Down

If you have a major goal, it always helps to write it down. In this case, your goal is to become a hot air balloon pilot. You can write that goal down and then put it somewhere you’ll see it.

You might also consider writing down why you want to become a hot air balloon pilot. This will help you keep a healthy perspective on the most difficult days.

Not only does writing down your goal help you remember it, but it also makes the goal real. Once it’s real, you suddenly become accountable! And accountability drives progress.

Keep Track

Organizational psychologists have proven time and time again that when people see their progress, they do better work. This is especially true during longterm projects.

There’s a lot of situations where it’s difficult to “see” your progress. One great way to to see how you’re doing is to keep track of it somewhere. Think of it as a giant scoreboard that tells you how much progress you’ve made!

It’s great to see on hard days that you actually are making progress.

Pick a couple of milestones, and mark each time you reach one. These milestones could include things like first flight, your 2,000-foot ascent, first solo flight, and so on!

Keeping track of your progress doesn’t have to include keeping track of how long you’ve been working on your goal. Sometimes knowing how long you’ve been trying can get discouraging. Keep things positive!

Celebrate the Small Wins

Going along with the idea of tracking your progress, be sure to celebrate when you do make progress. Celebrate even if it’s a small win! Those small wins will begin to accumulate into something big.

The reality is that you’re going to constantly be making progress, but you might not notice it. Plus, it becomes more meaningful if you celebrate each step forward!

Plus, knowing that you celebrate your wins gives you something to look forward to! The best part is you get to pick how you celebrate! You know better than anyone how to treat yo self!

Going Above and Beyond

Up to this point, we’ve been talking about getting a private pilot’s license. With a private pilot’s license, you can fly yourself and a few other people around, but you can’t fly commercially.

You also can’t train other potential pilots. So how can you do more? What’s the next step if you want to work commercially or become a hot air balloon pilot instructor?

Well, once you have your private pilot’s license, you can work on getting your commercial pilot’s license. With this license, you can fly for a living. Wouldn’t that be cool!

On top of that, you can also train other pilots. This is the most expansive hot air balloon pilot’s license you can hold in the United States. It comes with the most benefits but can also take a long time to get.

If you’re thinking about going for a commercial pilot’s license, keep in mind everything we’ve already talked about. Remember there will be obstacles and distractions, but be committed.

Getting a commercial pilot’s license can take a LONG time. So stay in the saddle and keep going.

Below we’ll take a look at the requirements for getting a commercial pilot’s license. We’ll also discuss how long it takes to go from a private license to a commercial license.

Commercial Pilot’s License Requirements

After getting your private pilot’s license, these are the requirements for getting a commercial pilot’s license:

  • Must be at least 18 years old.
  • Reads, writes, speaks, and understands English.
  • Advanced training must be received from an authorized instructor and a more advanced written and oral test must be passed.
  • Must have 35 hours of flight, at least 20 of which were in a hot air balloon. Flight time includes 10 hours of free ballooning, 10 hours under the supervision of an instructor, 2 solo flights, and 2 training flights lasting over an hour.

As you can see, getting a commercial license will take much longer than getting just a private license. First of all, you have to get your private pilot’s license just to begin with.

Then there are 35 hours of flight that must be undertaken. That’s a lot of time spent flying. Just accomplishing that requirement could easily take over a year.

Then there’s all the studying you need to do to pass the advanced tests. The advanced tests cover a huge range of topics, so there’s a lot to be prepared for!

Once you have your private pilot’s license, it could easily take 1-2 years to get your commercial pilot’s license. To finish all the requirements in just one year would take a lot of dedication.

At the end of the day, getting a commercial pilot’s license definitely is going above and beyond. Be prepared to take a long time to accomplish this goal, but if it’s worth it to you, go for it!

In the immortal words of Winston Churchill, “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be”.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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