FAQ

Why should I fly with Monticello Country Ballooning?

Monticello Country Ballooning offers the only all-inclusive package in the area. Our rates already include tax, digital photographs, and the traditional celebratory toast (champagne or beverage of your choice), as well as transportation to and from the launch site if you are staying locally.

Monticello Country Ballooning adheres to the highest standards of safety and quality for your flight. For added safety and passenger comfort, we offer special features that you may not find with other companies such as padded floors and tanks in our baskets for soft, cushioned landings, turning vents on the balloon to better position our passengers for views, landings and photographs, and enough seating and seatbelts for all passengers in the chase vehicle (a 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe). We also employ the most experienced pilots and crew in the area.

In addition to having a perfect safety record, we want our passengers to know that we understand the best experience is a safe experience. We can’t control the weather, but we want our passengers to have the best flight possible, and we take not only the safety of the experience, but also the quality of the experience into consideration when making our flight decision. Monticello Country Ballooning focuses on the quality and enhancement of your flight, we are out to provide the best experience possible!

When is the best time to fly?

Hot air ballooning is a year-round sport. Weather conditions for ballooning are best just after sunrise and about 2 hours before sunset. Light, ideal winds (0-8 mph) often occur during these times. During the day, when the sun is high, thermals (large bubbles of hot air that rise from the sun-heated earth) and stronger winds make ballooning difficult and unsafe. We fly seven days a week, weather permitting, but our busiest seasons are spring and fall due to the foliage.

After being in this business for over 2 decades, we are finding that afternoon flights are becoming more of a rarity as the climate becomes more unstable. Morning flights are recommended over afternoon flights at all times of the year, but especially during the hot, unstable summer months when most of our flights get canceled due to high heat, humidity and afternoon thunderstorms. For safety reasons, we cannot fly within 75-100 miles of any convective activity. 

 

View monthly meeting times on our Schedule page. Please note that all times are approximations and subject to change due to weather conditions and sunrise and sunset time changes.

 

What should I wear on the flight?
The air temperature during the flight is about the same as on the ground, so don’t overdress. We don’t go high enough to create a temperature difference. Wear casual outdoor attire, like jeans and sneakers, not your best clothes. Dresses, skirts, sandals or high heels are not recommended. We suggest waterproof footwear for morning flights since grass can be wet with dew, a baseball cap and sunglasses for the summer flights (the burner puts off quite a bit of radiant heat), and a jacket or sweater for all flights during cooler times of the year.
How long is the ballooning experience?

Airtime on our flights usually ranges from 45-60 minutes. While we try to get that full hour in; fuel, temperature, landing options and conditions are what ultimately determine how long we get to stay aloft.  Morning flights tend to be longer, closer to an hour, while afternoon flights tend to be a little shorter, closer to 45 minutes.

From the time that we pick you up, to returning to the meeting/pickup location, you can plan on 2 1/2-3 hours.  Where does all the extra time come from? We have to determine where we will launch from, given the wind conditions that day then drive you to the launch site. Most of our launch sites are within 15-20 minutes of the meeting location. The assembly and inflation process of the balloon can take any where from 20-30 minutes. We fly for roughly an hour. Once we land, packing up the balloon is another 30 minute process. We do a traditional champagne toast and then transport you back to the meeting site (not always in that order) which usually takes another 30 minutes.

Where do you launch?
We have many launch sites in and around the Charlottesville area depending on our passengers location or direction of travel. Several of our Bed & Breakfasts have suitable launch sites, but if you are staying in the Charlottesville area there is a launch site within 10-15 minutes from where you are staying. We also launch from private residences providing the prevailing winds and launch site are suitable.
Where do balloons land?
Since a balloon travels with the wind, it is not possible to determine an exact landing site prior to launch. However, a pilot is able, through the study of wind currents, to determine the general direction of the flight. We have been flying in the Charlottesville area for many years (we are the only pilots local to the area) and are quite famliar with the flying territory.
Can anyone pilot a balloon?
Balloon pilots must have an aircraft pilot’s license especially for balloons. This license is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and is earned after taking hours of instruction with a balloon pilot instructor, passing an FAA written test, making a solo flight, and passing a flight test with an FAA examiner. This whole process must be repeated in order to earn a Commercial pilot’s license.
How do pilots steer the balloon?
Generally speaking, we don’t. A balloon drifts in the same direction and at the same speed as the wind. The skill is for the pilot to pick the altitude that has the most desired wind direction. We can control the balloon’s vertical height to within inches, but the horizontal “steerage” comes from the wind. Surface winds sometimes blow in a very different direction from the winds aloft. Altitude control is achieved with the on-board burner. Longer “burns” will achieve lift. Shorter “burns”, or none at all will allow the air to cool, and the balloon to descend.
How many people does it take to fly a balloon?
The sport of ballooning is a wonderful group or family activity. To safely launch and fly a balloon requires a minimum crew of two people- the crew chief and the pilot. Duties of the crew typically include launch preparation, following the balloon flight in the chase vehicle, obtaining permission of the landowner for the balloon landing and retrieval, keeping spectators out of the landing area, and insuring that gates are left as they are found and that property is not damaged.
How do balloons work?
Hot air rises. The envelope traps a large bubble of hot air. If the air in the envelope is heated by a burner, the balloon will rise. If the air in the envelope is allowed to cool or if the hot air is “vented” (allowed to escape) from the top or the side of the envelope, the balloon will descend. An altimeter (to measure altitude), a rate-of-climb meter, and an envelope temperature gauge are the only instruments used in the balloon. Amazingly, the pilot can control the altitude of the balloon within a matter of inches!
What kind of material is the balloon?
The balloon bag or “envelope” is made of reinforced nylon fabric. It is very light (1.3 ounces per square yard) but very strong (25 pounds per square inch). The envelope is treated with a polyurethane coating to make it airtight and to help the fabric withstand the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The pilot and passengers ride in a gondola (or basket) that is made of woven wicker, which is both strong and flexible. The gondola is connected to the envelope by stainless steel or Kevlar suspension cables.
How are balloons inflated?
The balloon envelope is spread on the ground and the gondola laid on its side and attached to the envelope cables. A portable (gasoline powered) fan pushes cold air into the envelope. When the envelope is about half inflated with outside (ambient) air, a propane burner is ignited until the air inside is heated enough for the balloon to rise to an upright position. With a small amount of additional heat, the balloon becomes buoyant. Typically, the inflation takes about 20 minutes.
How much do balloon systems weigh?
A typical balloon system – envelope, gondola, fuel tanks, and 30 gallons of fuel – will weigh about 500 pounds, deflated on the ground. In the air, the complete system, including the weight of the air inside the envelope, will weigh about 2 1/2 tons. Our envelope weighs 267 pounds with 475 approximately loaded basket weight.
What kind of fuel do balloons use?
Common Liquid propane gas (LPG) is used to heat hot air balloons. Some balloons carry 40 gallons of propane in two 20-gallon stainless steel tanks; others carry three 10-gallon tanks. Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but highly volatile (burns easily). It is carried in liquid form, under pressure in the tanks, and supplied to the burners through flexible hoses. The burner flame may shoot out 6 to 8 feet in the blast that the pilot controls. A typical flight lasting 1 hour, with 3 people aloft, will consume about 20 gallons of propane. Some balloons systems such as ours have two independent burner and fuel systems for added safety.
How do you decide if it's safe to fly?

As commercially rated, licensed FAA pilots, it is our job to gather and evaluate as much information as possible related to each flight. We have access to many different weather-related resources, as well as two and half decades of local knowledge and experience with local weather patterns. After gathering as much information as possible related to each flight, the pilot makes a “go/no-go” decision. However, one of the more important things that we do doesn’t happen until we meet up with our passengers. We release a “pibal” (short for pilot balloon) which is a small, helium filled balloon that we watch and track at the altitudes we will potentially be flying at. The pibal shows us many things pertinent to our flight such as wind speed, directional variability (also known as steerage) at different altitudes, thermal activity, wind shear and turbulence. We may release several pibals for your flight. The pibal is the most accurate representation of what is going on at the altitudes that we will be flying at, and is therefore the true final decision maker. We determine where we will launch from, the general area where we may be landing, and whether we will actually go or not, all from that test balloon.

How long can balloons stay up?
Most balloons can fly for about 1 hour depending on the outside temperature and the weight carried. On a cold day with only the pilot flying, a 2-3 hour flight would be possible.
How much does a balloon cost?
The average balloon cost may range from $20,000 to well over $40,000. This price includes the envelope, gondola, burner, fuel tanks, and instruments, but does not include any ground support equipment.
How do I get home?

After the balloon is launched, the “chase crew” follows the balloon in the chase vehicle by maintaining radio communication with the pilot, as well as using a GPS tracking app that the pilot is using in the balloon. By using the app, maps of the area and the radios, as well as visual contact, the chase crew is usually close by when the balloon lands. The crew then helps the pilot deflate and disassemble the balloon and, after packing up and having the champagne toast, we return you back to where we picked you up or met. 

How are you handling Covid-19?

We take this virus very seriously. We have approached flying under these new circumstances with an abundance of caution in order to balance our commitment to not only safety but also hospitality. Read How We’re Handling Covid-19.