Global Ballooning Australia commercial balloon pilots are some of the most experienced balloonists in the country. Our current pilots have been ballooning with the company for many years and all have rich histories of ballooning throughout Australia and the world. They are highly accomplished in their field with the majority of pilots having accrued over 3000hrs in hot air balloons.
But there is a lot more to our amazing team of pilots and crew than their vast experience flying hot air balloons. Part of what makes ballooning such an incredible experience is the connection between passenger and pilot. Aside from flying your hot air balloon safely, your pilot acts as a guide, offering intricate interpretation of the landscape you are floating above, often in a very personalised narrative depending on the particular pilot’s background.
In this instalment of “Up in the air”, we introduce Brian Garth, Global’s longest serving pilot.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a balloon pilot!
Brian Garth, I’m 53 years old and have been flying balloons throughout Australia and Kenya for twenty years. Before all this, I was a forest ranger in the mountain forests east of Melbourne but having worked for the government for 10 years I was ready for a change. So I began my own Eco-Tourism business taking local and overseas visitors into the mountains on spotlight walks and four wheel drive day tours. Kiff Saunders, the owner and manager of Global Ballooning Australia, contacted me to see if I could offer his clients an outdoor experience alternative when early morning balloon flights were cancelled, due to bad weather. This lead me to join Global Ballooning as one ot their ground crew.
I crewed for almost a year before going on a flight as I was a little scared of height! One perfect morning I decided to give it a try and to my amazement I was not at all worried about the height and just being able to drift along with the wind was an experience I had to do again.
Kiff put me through my training and after several years, I had passed all of the necessary exams, medicals, commercial training and check out flights. I had gained my entry-level, commercial hot air balloon pilot’s licence.
Was it something you always dreamed of doing?
No, until I met Kiff, I had never given ballooning a second thought.
What is the best location you have ever taken a flight and why? How about your dream location (within Australia and worldwide) and why?
I have flown all over Australia and across the Savannah of the Masai Mara and even with all its amazing wildlife, I still consider the Yarra Valley to be most consistently spectacular. However if you are lucky enough to find wind direction that enables you to fly right over the top of the Melbourne CBD it is well and truly a sight to behold. Having said that, flying over a sea of thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra on their annual migration is an awesome experience too.
Advice for anyone who is considering a flight but gets nervous around heights?
I fly more than 3,000 people a year, many whom like myself are scared of heights, however a few minutes after take off they are relaxed. About once every two years, I have landed early to let someone out who was not enjoying the experience.
What does an average workday look like for you?
Very early morning starts (awake about two hours before sun rise) checking weather conditions, liaising with other pilots and crew, updating our communication with our clients with regard to the flight proceeding. Meet and greet our clients, selection of a launch site to provide the most spectacular flight path for our passengers with the given winds of the day. Drive to launch site, inflate the balloon, (still my favorite part of ballooning) launch the balloon and conduct the flight which includes: witnesses the sunrise, pointing out landmarks and any wildlife, explaining how the balloon works with regard to steering with the wind, throwing in my fair share of what some people believe to be ‘bad dad’ jokes and rotating the balloon so that everybody gets to travel forwards. We then land and with the passenger’s assistance, pack the balloon away, enjoying a post-flight breakfast with passengers. After that we complete the paperwork, try and get a couple of hours sleep, then start preparing for the flight the next morning.