The never ending adventure of the Virgin Balloon Flights pilots

Let’s face it, there aren’t many jobs out there that are as adventurous as being a hot air balloon pilot. Imagine, instead of going to the office, drifting across incredible landscapes at sunrise and sunset - certainly beats the nine to five daily grind!

But when you have one of the most exciting careers in the world, what do you do when you’re not flying high?

We talk to Virgin Balloon Flights pilots Kate Holzer and Kerry Coate-Bond about how there’s no such thing as too much adventure.

Experiences make us who we are

"'We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.' I once read this quote and felt it sums up adventure," says Kate. "There is so much to see and do - it’s the experiences we have that make us who we are. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Kate flies the Virgin hot air balloon in Scotland and even when the weather’s not on side for going up, up and away she always finds a way to enjoy the great outdoors, from canoeing in Loch Tay to cruising on the motorbike, and sledging in Aviemore.

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"Whenever I get time I get out and enjoy random activities around Scotland. Even in the cold and wet it’s always good fun."

Ballooning is of course top of the list when it comes to adventure and Kate has been lucky enough to fly all over the globe, including Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Canada and Chicago.

Like most of the Virgin Balloon Flights pilots, when the UK season ends in October, Kate heads off to fly in warmer climates.

"This winter I shall be traveling with my mum and step-dad for some fun flying in our special pirate, Capt. Jack balloon.

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"We start in Calgary in Canada, then down to New Mexico for Albuquerque - the world’s largest hot air balloon festival. After that, it’s off to Switzerland and hopefully some hotter places further afield.

"I decided to take time off commercial flying this winter, there’s a fine line when you do what you love for your job - I think it’s important to get back in a little balloon and have some fun flying privately too."

The adrenaline rush makes you feel alive

"I’ve always been interested in anything outdoors for as long as I can remember," says Hertfordshire Virgin Balloon Flights pilot Kerry Coate-Bond.

"I grew up in Wimbledon and would spend hours on the common climbing trees and building dams. Our family holidays were always in Cornwall or near Bognor where I discovered watersports like wind-surfing and water-skiing."

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When Kerry isn’t flying the Virgin balloon in St Albans, Knebworth or Biggleswade, you’ll more than likely find him on him cruising on the ground rather than in the sky. 

"My love of motorbikes started when I was 15, but a pretty big accident when I was 18 put me off for many years. I took up offloading with a good friend only a couple of years ago as a hobby, but since then, I passed my full bike test this year, and as well as my KTM, I now have a 600 sports bike which I ride at least once a week.

"It's a great feeling of freedom, and I'd recommend anyone to try it. It still scares me a little bit just how fast things can happen, but you do need a little bit of stimulation everyday - something to make your heart beat faster. That adrenaline makes you feel alive."

Overcoming your fears

Believe it or not, both Kerry and Kate were once nervous flyers before they discovered ballooning.

"I was scared of flying and heights. My stepdad was a balloon pilot and it took him three years to persuade me to have a go. I did during a balloon festival in Chateau d’oex, Switzerland and I instantly wanted to do it again," says Kate.

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Kerry worked in a balloon ground crew team before he started training to become a pilot.

"I never had any intentions to fly in the balloon, as I don’t even enjoy going a plane," says Kerry.

 "A couple of months into the job I got offered to take a lesson and decided to give it a go. It was only about 30 minutes long flying a few feet off the ground over some fields, but I was hooked straight away and started training to get my pilot’s licence."

Much like Kate, Kerry has flown all over the globe, from Germany and France to Australia and Thailand. 

"I love it so much, and I'm so proud of what I've achieved. It shows that if you put your mind to something, dreams can come true. I have done some school visits with the balloons, getting the children interested into what we do. If I could inspire just one of them to work hard for what they believe in, I'd be proud." says Kerry.

Give it a go or you’ll never know

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, why not give it a go? Discover something new or you’ll never know what it like.

"Ballooning is a great activity - you can meet people from different walks of life all over the world and it opens the door to a lot of places and adventures should you want to explore further," says Kate.

"I'd recommend everyone tries hot air ballooning," says Kerry.

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"There are many private balloonists out there who are always looking for some crew members to help every so often in return for flights."

Losing a close relative made Kate realise that life was too short to turn down opportunities.

"In 2013 my uncle passed away, I flew out to the states just in time, on the way back I had a nine hour layover in Heathrow airport. I sat there all night re-thinking life. By the time I got back to Scotland I had made my mind up to quit my sales job and focus on my flying and enjoying life.

"You really don't know what’s around the corner. If the opportunity presents itself I rarely say no, I take the approach of a get up and go lifestyle," says Kate.

"If it excites your soul, then go for it."

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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