FAA Safety Briefing Magazine….Again!

Congratulations to our own Adam Magee on publishing yet another article in the Federal Aviation Administration Safety Briefing magazine! His article, The Dangerous Power of Powerlines is featured in the September/October Emergency issue of the magazine.

We are so fortunate to have such a talented leader who is recognized by the FAA as an expert in his craft!

You can read the excellent article here:



What size balloon should I buy?

You’re looking at buying your first balloon, but aren’t sure what size balloon to buy – here are a few tips:

  • Start small – Small balloons are easier to handle. On the ground, smaller balloons are less work on the crew. Smaller balloons also fit into smaller launch and landing spots. Not that a new pilot should be utilizing small launch/landing spots, but oftentimes newer pilots misjudge the space required of their balloons when handling on the ground which ends up causing damage on signs, fences, mailboxes, etc. trying to inflate/deflate in smaller than appropriate space. A smaller balloon is easier to handle on the ground and can limit some damage caused on the ground.
  • But not too small – Small balloons limit your ability to take a passenger. Most new pilots want a balloon that will accommodate at least one passenger in all temperatures. Be sure that the size is big enough to accommodate this with your weight.
  • And not too large – Some new pilots want a large balloon to be able to accommodate a lot of friends on every flight. We recommend a new pilot not take more than two passengers at a time. Larger balloons are harder to handle on the ground, and also harder to handle in flight. It’s like driving a sedan during your training and then jumping into a F-350 or school bus. It takes time to develop the proficiency in the sedan to be able to safely fly the F-350. As you build in hours and proficiency you will be able to move up in size of balloon and accommodate more passengers.
  • We recommend that students/new pilots buy between a 60,000 and 90,000 cubic foot balloons. 77,000 is a sweet spot as far as a good size starter balloon. What size you buy in this range depends on weights, altitude, temperatures, etc. where you will be flying.

Hope this helps you determine which size balloon to buy. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to message us!

Buying your first hot air balloon

It’s no secret that we love helping new balloon pilots. Whether that’s helping students with ground instruction, giving flight instruction, finding a student an instructor, or answering questions – we love helping new pilots.

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “what are some tips for buying my first balloon?” Here are a few tips:

  • Find someone local who has knowledge of balloons and lean on their expertise. If you have an instructor, ask your instructor for help identifying a balloon or what brand of balloon they are comfortable completing your training in. While all hot air balloons operate using the same basic principles, there can be major differences between brands of balloons. Different areas of the Country have different brands the majority of pilots in that area fly. Pilots and crew in those areas will be most comfortable and willing to train/help you if you are flying the same brand they are comfortable with.
  • Ask your local or nearest repair station. The local (or nearest) repair station should have a good idea of used equipment in the area. Oftentimes pilots mention to their local repair station that they are thinking about selling equipment a couple of years before they actually list the equipment for sale online. The local repair station can pass along your information or help with the sale. They also know the equipment condition and can give you an honest answer on the expected life of the balloon.
  • If you find a balloon for sale online that you like, never buy sight unseen. Ask your local expert, local repair station, or find out where the equipment was last inspected and contact that facility for help. Arrange to physically see the balloon and inspect its condition. Take someone with you who knows enough about balloons to verify its condition.
  • Inspect the balloon’s logbook and manuals. Before you buy, inspect the balloon’s logbook for repair and maintenance entries. If you have any questions, ask the repair station who completed the last inspection. Match up the serial numbers in the logbook to what you are buying.
  • Low hours is not always better. Balloons are always a bit of a mystery. Just like any other purchase the buyer should always beware. Balloon fabrics are different and batches of fabrics sometimes vary. The coatings used may be reacting differently or the balloon itself is treated differently from owner to owner. For example, if a balloon is stored wet, the fabric will degrade and possibly form mildew. If a balloon is constantly tarped and stored dry in climate controlled storage, the fabric will often remain ‘like new’ for a long period of time. It’s hard to really give any good rule of thumb. Balloons can degrade while in the bag. Beware of older balloons with low hours, the sitting fabric maybe degrading in the bag. A balloon should be inflated/flown a few times a year as well as packed away and stored dry to prevent fabric issues associated with sitting in the bag.

Hope that helps you with your next used balloon purchase. As always, if you have any questions please reach out to us and we will help in any way that we can. Next blog post we will provide tips to the question, “what size balloon should I buy?”

First Quarter 2019 Update

It’s been a busy and successful start to 2019! We continue to see student’s succeed on their FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Exam as well as the FAA Commercial Pilot Knowledge Exam! Winter weather has negatively impacted flying, but we’ve still seen a few students able to finish their flight training and earn their Private and Commercial ratings!

We’ve received many positive comments on the information about us in the previous post, so reluctantly here is information on what we’ve been up to the first quarter of 2019….

Our Co-Founder/President/Chief Flight Instructor, Adam Magee, was recently named the 2019 Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year by the Federal Aviation Administration Des Moines Flight Standards District Office – making Adam the first balloon pilot to earn this prestigious recognition. Adam was also named the 2019 Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year by the Federal Aviation Administration Central Region placing Adam in the top three of flight instructors in the USA! These awards are given by the FAA for all General Aviation aircraft. There are over 110,000 active flight instructors in the USA in all aircraft, to be selected as one of the top three, and the first balloon pilot to earn the award, is a tremendous accomplishment!

Our Co-Founder/Vice President/Flight Instructor, Kim Magee, was busy these first few months of 2019 breaking 6 World Records and 9 National Records in AX – 02 and AX – 05  hot air balloons!  On January 19, 2019 Kim Magee set 6 US National records and 3 World records in an AX- 02 hot air balloon. Kim took off from West Fargo, ND and landed near Fergus Falls, MN. The flight covered 62.1 miles and reached an altitude of 10,243 feet. The AX – 02 hot air balloon is only 14,000 cubic feet!

 Below are the records Kim broke on her January 19, 2019 notable flight:

National Records (NAA)

AX – 02 Distance previous record 35.21 miles

AX – 02 Distance previous record 11.19 miles (female)

AX – 03 Distance previous record 11.19 miles

AX – 04 Distance previous record 46.44 miles

AX – 02 Altitude previous record 1,952 feet

AX – 03 Altitude previous record 9,770 feet

World Records (FAI/CIA)

AX – 02 Distance previous record 14.09 miles

AX – 02 Altitude previous record 7,523 feet

AX – 03 Distance previous record 37.02 miles


On March 17, 2019 Kim Magee set 3 US National records and 3 World records in an AX- 05 hot air balloon. Kim took off from Mitchell, SD and landed near Troy, IA. The flight covered 365 miles. The AX – 05 balloon is 42,000 cubic feet!

Below are the records Kim broke on her March 17, 2019 notable flight:

National Records (NAA)

AX – 05 Distance previous record 179.14 miles (female)

AX – 06 Distance previous record 228.04 miles (female)

AX – 05 Distance previous record 270.11 miles

World Records (FAI/CIA)

AX – 05 Distance previous record 179.14 miles (female)

AX – 06 Distance previous record 228.04 miles (female)

AX – 05 Distance previous record 270.11 miles

Adam Magee (right) being presented with the 2019 Federal Aviation Administration District and Central Region Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year Awards by Federal Aviation Administration Des Moines Flight Standards District Office Front Line Manager – Operations Mike Heenan (left).

Kim Magee flying her AX – 02 hot air balloon during her World Record flight.

Kim Magee flying her AX – 05 hot air balloon during her World Record flight.

Happy New Year! What a year it’s been! We have had an incredible year raising the bar on hot air balloon education and training!

Thank you to all the students, pilots, and instructors who have supported us in our mission to bring the launch field to students across the U.S.A.!

As 2018 was coming to a close, we reached 30 students who passed their check ride with an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, earning their rating! We also reached 40 students who passed their FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Exam! (There could be more which we don’t know about) We also continued our 100% pass rate on the Knowledge Exam and check rides!

We are so proud of our students and their accomplishments! 

The Balloon Training Academy began as a grass-roots effort to educate, train, and develop hot air balloon pilots. We want to raise the bar on hot air balloon education and push the industry forward.

We often get asked, “who is The Balloon Training Academy?” We are a little hush, hush on who we are simply because this isn’t about us. We are the passionate founders, leaders, brains, husband and wife of the organization. In addition to creating new content and running the organization, we are busy within our daily lives with our full-time jobs, as well as busy in the ballooning community. Here are some things which we accomplished in the ballooning community this year besides our work with The Balloon Training Academy: we were contributing authors of the new Balloon Event Guidelines, we were presenters/speakers at the BFA National Convention in Philadelphia, we became FAASTeam Representatives, WINGSPros, & DronePros, I continued on the HACD Board, created the game of Balloon Golf, was on the Organizing Committee for the first ever Balloon Event Symposium, started writing a series of articles in the BALLOONING Magazine on hot air balloon education/training, wrote a featured article in the FAA Safety Briefing Magazine, and continued on the National Balloon Museum Board of Directors. Kim came up just shy of a new World Record in a balloon, was the Top Women’s finisher at the US Nationals, finished 4th and the Women’s World Championships, competed at the Jr. World Championships, and became the Social Media Manager for the BFA. 

You won’t find a full bio and resume on this site, nor do we update you about our lives through our Facebook page. Inevitably people ask who we are, so if you were wondering hopefully that gives you an ideas of who we are. BUT, we don’t like talking about us because it’s all of YOU who “buy in” to what we are doing which make us successful. We’ve sold over 40 of our Private Pilot Training Syllabus which are being used out in the field by instructors to provide training to students. We are proud to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, meaning that all money raised goes back out into the ballooning community to provide educational opportunities. We are proud of our relationship with Ultramagic Balloons to provide reduced cost flight training. Most of all, we are proud of our students! We have so much to be proud of in 2018, thank you for your support!

Congratulations to new pilot #30 from The Balloon Training Academy. We are so proud of all of our students who passed their check rides!

Such an honor to write a featured article in the FAA Safety Briefing Magazine! Check it out here (copy and paste into brower):

The momentum begins with you!

Students taking our Private Pilot Test Prep Course have had tremendous success! Federal Aviation Administration Designated Pilot Examiners (FAA DPEs) have noticed. We received the following message from distinguished balloonists, flight instructor, and FAA DPE, Kay West:

Thank you for working with Rich. Rich got 90% of his training this summer in less than 60 days.  He is our first student to be trained in the mountains and he passed his private checkride with flying colors. I am recommending your ground school to everyone I come in contact with. Your work is definitely filling a need and I hope that it continues to gain momentum.”

We are humbled that Kay has noticed the value in our course and our mission.  One by one we are growing the sport and instilling knowledge.

The most frequent question we get asked is, I am using _______ for my FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Exam test prep, should I use The Balloon Training Academy?

Of course we would like to say the answer to that is, yes you should use The Balloon Training Academy! But, we know that there are many options out there for you to choose from. You can buy a book which is relatively inexpensive, there are apps, other websites, and there are even free websites which claim to have the “real” FAA questions.

What you will find with The Balloon Training Academy is that we are focused on ballooning. Many of the other test prep resources are geared towards aircraft other than balloons. Our test prep course is focused on balloons and we even provide additional information which likely won’t appear on the Knowledge Exam, but will be very helpful as you begin your flight training.

Our course is also focused on teaching you the material that you are likely to be tested on. The FAA has been mixing up and changing their test questions as they realized that people were going to those free online test prep websites and memorizing the questions and answers. The best way to prepare for the test is to learn the material, not the question and answer which you hope will appear! Our course teaches you the material so that you are prepared for any question the FAA gives you. We also have over 500 questions for you to practice which are similar to what you might experience on your exam!

What a week it’s been! We launched our Private Pilot Test Prep Course almost a week ago and have received tremendous feedback via social media and emails. Thank you for the many likes, shares, and comments!

We wanted to address some questions we have received.

Where did the idea for The Balloon Training Academy (BTA) come from? The idea for the BTA came from our work with the BFA Youth Program. We were heavily involved in the BFA Youth Program; volunteering as camp counselors, organizing and running our own BFA Youth Camp for three years, created and maintained the BFA Camps website before the new BFA website, writing the camp guidelines which are used for BFA camps today. The camps are great opportunities to showcase ballooning to youth and educate and train student pilots, but the camps end. The end of camp always left us wanting to do more. We thought, how can we keep camp going and allow the process to come full circle and get more pilots into the sport? The answer was The Balloon Training Academy.

If you’re a nonprofit, why aren’t the courses free? The answer to this question expands off the answer to the previous question. We want the process to come full circle. We want to get more pilots into the sport. If we only focus on giving ground training and preparing students to take the Knowledge Exam, then we are stranding them before they can achieve their rating. The reason we charge a course fee is because we want to raise funds to allow us to help students start/continue flight training after successfully completing the Knowledge Exam. We want to be able to create club balloons for users of our course to possibly use with a flight instructor to gain flight training. We want to be able to provide scholarships to flight schools. We want to complete the circle. We are a nonprofit because we operate in order to fulfill our mission, not fill our pockets. We don’t own the Academy, we are merely the Board of Directors who lead the Academy towards fulfilling its mission.

There are a bunch of websites out there that say they have the FAA questions, why should I pay to take your course? Something we didn’t know until we started The Balloon Training Academy is that the FAA doesn’t release their bank of test questions. 2008 was the last year that the FAA published a bank of possible questions. The reason why the FAA stopped publishing test questions is because too many students were simply memorizing the question and the answer. Students weren’t understanding the material. This has lead to many safety issues. The FAA has since not published the questions and they have gone through the questions and updated/changed them in order to keep the integrity of the exam. It’s kind of like while in College the professor realizes that final exams from previous semester have been floating around to the students. The professor then changes the questions on the next exam. Those students who learned the material are well prepared for whatever questions the professor gives them, while the students who only memorized the previous final exams are in panic mode when they realize that their final exam is totally different! Don’t be the panicked student! Learn the material through our course and be prepared to take the exam and be prepared for your flight training!

There are other ground schools or test preparation courses out there, why choose yours? We understand that there are many options out there for test preparation, most of which are very good options. Some options out there aren’t geared towards balloons. They probably still work, but you will probably be bored throughout the course learning airplane topics that ultimately won’t be relevant to you. We are Commercial rated balloon pilots with the knowledge and experience to present to you the topics that are important for you to know for the Knowledge Exam as well as prepare you for flight training. We even cover some airplane specific material because in our examination of the FAA Knowledge codes we believe some airplane questions could sneak onto your exam. Our courses also go deeper in many areas to provide you additional knowledge to prepare you for flight training and becoming a competent, safe pilot. There are some great ground schools offered who are organized by balloonists and those may be very beneficial to many students who need one on one instruction. Our courses are designed to be self-paced and very much learn on your own time courses. We understand that people have busy schedules and oftentimes can’t attend an in-person ground school. Finally, we are a nonprofit. Many ground schools are created by for-profit companies. As I have mentioned above, we exist to fulfill our mission. The money we earn though course fees goes back into the ballooning community to help students become pilots.

Exam dataTake a look at the graphs which show the number of test takers for the Private and Commercial hot air balloon Knowledge Exam from 2002 to 2015. The number of test takers has been on the decline. The numbers hit their lowest levels in the height of the great recession of 2007-2009, but they have not been able to rebound as the economy has improved. When looking at the overall trends of private pilot test takers, it’s hard to say the economy has had any impact as the trend has been sharply downward since 2002.

This is only the number of knowledge exam test takers, not those who have taken a check ride, although we imagine the trend to be similar. Ballooning needs help getting pilots into the sport and earning their certificate. The Balloon training Academy hopes to be that help while not sacrificing knowledge and safety.

We have the Balloon Federation of America (BFA), why isn’t this a part of that organization? The missions of The Balloon Training Academy and the BFA are very similar; safety and growing the sport. As mentioned in the answer to question #1, we were heavily involved in the BFA Youth Program when we came up with this idea. This idea was tossed around the BFA, and ultimately decided that although the BFA is for safety and growing the sport, the organization wasn’t in a position to become a teacher. An online training Academy and creating club balloons, providing scholarships for flight training, etc., in it’s entirety was outside the scope of the BFA. However, the BFA and some of it’s members have donated to us the funding for us to purchase the software to run the site and keep it up while we organized and developed the content. We hope the BTA will become a great resource for the BFA and ballooning community. That’s an example of two nonprofit organizations with a common mission working together to achieve that mission.