For one man, an interest in the skies has turned into a 19-year-long career in ballooning.
“Like anyone looking to the skies, there’s always that interest imagining what it would be like to fly a balloon,” said Kevin Witt, a balloon pilot at The Sky’s The Limit Ballooning Inc.
Witt, 48, graduated from Penn State with a degree in geoenvironmental engineering and got a job in Annapolis, Md. While there, he saw a group of people wearing ballooning shirts. Interested in balloon flight, Witt talked to them and they invited him to come on a balloon ride.
After volunteering to help with balloon rides for some time, Witt, of Lemont, Pa., finally got the chance to try piloting a balloon.
“We were flying over Annapolis over the countryside and I thought it was the neatest thing, like ‘I gotta do that,’” he said.
In 2001, Witt decided to turn his interest into a commercial business. He went through pilot training and received his balloon pilot’s license. Today, Witt is also certified as an instructor, and he trains budding pilots through the “rigors” of balloon flight.
“Every flight is unique,” Witt said. “When I take passengers up, I say, ‘hey, I’ve been doing this for 19 years but you’re the only one who flies in the direction we do and lands where we’re at.’”
That uniqueness is what Witt loves about his job. He enjoys meeting customers and said some have invited him into their homes after landing.
He also said one of his favorite things about being a balloon pilot is seeing the joy he brings to others. For example, he once gave a balloon ride to a woman who was terminally ill with cancer.
“She said, ‘At this time, I don’t have a worry in the world,’” as they were flying over Mount Nittany.
Witt sometimes has the opportunity to speak to children in schools about his job. When he does, he always makes sure to tell them he has one of the best jobs in the world.
Frequently asked balloon questions
Q: Is it always cold up there?
A: While the air is about 3.5 degrees cooler for every 1,000 feet you ascend, it’s generally warmer in the balloon than on the ground because the burner radiates a lot of heat and because you are moving with the wind. You could technically pull out a match and light it because you’re moving with the wind.
Q: Does it get really hot in the summer, then?
A: Yes. Also, it takes more heat to make the balloon rise. While hot air tends to rise, in summer, the air is already hot.
Q: How does a hot air balloon work?
A: Propane is used to fire the burner, which heats up the part of the balloon that actually expands, which is known to balloon pilots as the envelope. Prior to flying, a pilot lays the envelope on the ground and inflates it with a fan, then uses the burner to make it stand upright.
Q: How much does a balloon ride cost?
A: About $200 per person.
Q: How high up does a balloon fly?
A: Commercial rides generally reach altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet, but Witt has personally flown to altitudes of 18,000 feet.
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