Young pilots fueling future of hot air ballooning

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Balloon Fiesta brings some of the most experienced balloon pilots to Albuquerque’s skies, but increasingly, ballooning is embracing a younger crowd. 

Pilots like 19-year old Elijah Sanchez are living proof of that change. A newly licensed private pilot, Sanchez is one of the youngest to the scene and hopeful to fly in Fiesta next year. 

Starting in ballooning when he was 15, Sanchez says he initially didn’t want to be a pilot, just a crew member helping Rainbow Ryders commercial balloon flights. 

But at 17, Sanchez started pursuing his flight path. Over the last two years, he’s amassed more than 15 hours of instruction, passed written and verbal exams, flown by himself and with an in-flight examiner. 

“Now that I’m flying, I just love just being in the air, just being in control,” said Sanchez. 

Sanchez earned his license in September 2018, allowing him to fly privately. He also has his own balloon which he bought for $4,000. 

Longtime balloon pilot Troy Bradley says seeing new pilots is encouraging. Traditionally, hot air ballooning has gotten a a reputation for being expensive and for an older crowd. 

“Just like any aviation we’re starting to see a graying of the sport,” said Bradley. “There’s nothing better than to pass on a skill to the next generation.” 

Sanchez’s goal is to fly for Fiesta in 2019. He’s working on a commercial license to do so, which requires another 35 flight hours and some additional exams. 

“I’m hoping to just keep continuing flying, flying as much as I can and getting that experience,” said Sanchez. 

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