It’s not often that when asking someone what they do for a living, they reply by saying “I’m a hot air balloon pilot.”
So what is it like to be a balloon maestro and to give passengers this wonderful experience? How do you prepare to fly daily in this unique way? We decided to ask our very own Captain Peter Kollar about his flight preparation rituals and what a typical day in the life of a hot air balloon pilot looks like.
What preparation is done the night before flying?
Preparing as much as possible the night before a flight is a fundamental part of Captain Peter’s process. This is essential in order to be as organized as possible and to avoid unnecessary stress on the morning of the flight—this inevitably leads to feeling calmer and more composed for flying. Captain Peter methodically runs through the following checklist:
Prepare all the paperwork, such as the flight plan.
Check the weather forecast and real time meteorological information.
Polish flying boots. This is a ritual that Captain Peter has been engaging in for the last 31 years. His motto is, “one should never go into battle with dirty boots.” Captain Peter explains that he learned this from his grandfather who fought in and survived two World Wars.
A good sleep is also an essential component to the pre-flight ritual. Captain Peter ensures that not a drop of alcohol is consumed in the ten hours prior to a flight and he only makes social plans like going out to dinner with friends or family on evenings when he is not flying the next morning.
The morning of a flight always involves the same tried and tested routine for Captain Peter. After spending some time in the army as a young man, the importance of a clean shave, freshly ironed shirt and shiny boots has stayed with him and he never neglects this practice; always ensuring he presents himself in a neat and tidy fashion.
As a pilot, how do you motivate yourself right before a flight?
Captain Peter explains that he always feels motivated and focused pre-flight; “I want to get out there, do a great job, and give people a wonderful experience.” He doesn’t need to psyche himself up in any particular way, explaining in a matter of fact way that “after 31 years of flying, I do not need to psyche myself up to get into the zone—it is in fact the sign of a true professional to stay calm and collected.”
What is your favorite part about flying hot air balloons?
Making people happy and giving them a wonderful, often once in a lifetime experience, is what Captain Peter enjoys most about balloon flying. “For many passengers, they need to go far outside of their comfort zones to get into a hot air balloon; alleviating their apprehension and fear, and showing them a great time is my single biggest daily challenge.” This challenge is always worth it, according to Captain Peter, as the award comes from the inevitably amazing experience that his passengers have.
What is your favorite memory of hot air ballooning?
Although there are countless wonderful memories and unforgettable experiences in a job like this, the numerous weddings and proposals that Captain Peter has witnessed in his balloon are obvious highlights. Captain Peter admits that he is a bit of a romantic at heart and it almost brings tears to his eyes when a young man proposes, as he has no idea what he is getting himself into!
Is hot air balloon flying a solo mission?
While the pilot may be the person flying the hot air balloon, having a well-trained and motivated ground crew is vital and gives the pilot the additional confidence to fly.
Captain Peter explains that whatever happens, knowing that the crew will be there for him is massively reassuring. Organization and communication is key here, “they have to be a tight knit unit, almost like a platoon.” This certainly shows the depth of organization and preparation that goes into ensuring that everyone has a smooth flight.
What does a balloon pilot do in their free time when not hot air ballooning?
Captain Peter is an avid gardener; quoting Voltaire he exclaims that “we must cultivate our own garden.” He finds few things more refreshing for the mind than gardening. This surely feeds his calm and collected nature when flying, and this has allowed him to perform with great composure over many years. But it’s not just the love of gardening that keeps Captain Peter’s green fingers busy; having two acres of garden with 600 roses, 400 olive trees, among other things, means that he does not have much choice.
How did hot air ballooning become your passion?
Captain Peter actually prefers not to call it his passion, “it is my job that I like and that I am privileged to do, but I feel that passion often gets in the way of doing a clean-cut professional job. Too much emotion and passion is not always healthy.” This reflects Captain Peter’s methodical and professional approach.
How important is physical fitness for balloon flying?
This is a non-negotiable for Captain Peter and he believes that it is absolutely essential to maintain physical fitness – “flying large passenger balloons is truly comparable to being a professional sports person, you need to be always on the top of your game. The only difference between a professional pilot and a sports person is that if a pilot makes a mistake, the consequences are much graver.” To maintain his physical fitness, he works out with a personal trainer several times a week and has a full health checkup twice yearly.
It’s clear that his 31 years of flying hot air balloons all over the world has helped Captain Peter develop a methodical and successful approach to hot air ballooning. He is regimented; borrowing principles and practices from military traditions to ensure that he runs a tight operation every day. This is balanced with passion and of course a great sense of humor keeping his guests highly entertained throughout the flight.