Meet Your Pilot
The amount of prep work, time, science, and knowledge that goes into launching even just one balloon—never mind the dozens of simultaneous launches that take tourists up in Albuquerque everyday—is unthinkable until you see it in person. Even just rolling out the balloon requires at least five people.
And while the support crew plays a vital role in the launch and landing of these balloons, when you’re in the air, the pilot is the star of the show. My pilot was Troy Bradley, who introduced himself as a guy who had been flying balloons for most of his life. But it didn’t take long before someone offered the full story: Troy wasn’t just a balloon pilot, he was certified ballooning royalty.
You can only control your vertical movement; the wind controls how you move horizontally.
Up in the air, as in life, there’s a lot you can’t control. But by shifting perspective, you can embrace a smoother ride and catch the winds that will push you in the right direction.
Loving what you do is all that matters.
Troy is the definition of passion. Waking up at 4 a.m., rolling out massive tarps, getting dripped on by propane, and directing his team of other airborne pilots via walkie-talkie from a balloon can’t be easy, but Troy does it every day. He clearly doesn’t consider it “work” and his passion has been passed on to his two children, who each hold their own world records.
At the museum, you can see some of the gear it takes to survive a transcontinental hot air balloon flight: dozens of helium tanks, a floating metal capsule, and pounds of equipment. But this sampling represents only a glimpse of the time, logistics, research, money, and effort that goes into such endeavors, and Troy has dove headfirst into these projects dozens of times.
Anything is possible.
You know what should be impossible? Hovering hundreds of feet in the air, and then skimming the Rio Grande in a giant floating basket. To go beyond that and to pilot a balloon across thousands of miles of water, contained for six days, is to merge big dreams with serious logistics, and to prove that nearly anything is possible if you have the imagination to dream it and resources to make it happen.
Experience things for yourself.
If you follow any travel accounts on Instagram, you’re bound to come across glamorous shots of balloons in Cappadocia or balloon baskets floating over a river in France. What isn’t pictured, though, is the propane dripping on you from above, the 4:00 a.m. wake-ups, and the constant sound of dogs barking (the high-pitched noise they hear from propane tanks bothers them). In no way did these realities lessen my experience, but it was a good reminder that an Instagram photo doesn’t always give the full picture.
Don’t take yourself too seriously … and have a drink.
Troy has plenty to brag about (if you held 64 world records, it might come up in conversation now and again), but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He does, however, know that every balloon ride should end with festivity and joy—and a traditional champagne toast. Around the world, every safe balloon landing ends with this salute:
“The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with its warm hands. You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in laughter and may set you gently back again into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”