I've seen balloons before, but never thought about balloon “companies”.  Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Tom Tomasetti.  I am an FAA certificated Commercial Hot Air Balloon Pilot, one of about 3000 in the U.S. and I own the Above & Beyond Hot Air Balloon Company.  We are a commercial hot air balloon service providing paid sightseeing adventures to the general public as well as corporate balloon advertising.  We are also a nationally ranked balloon racing team.  Above & Beyond is based in Raleigh, which is where we fly the majority of our paid passengers, but our corporate and competitive flying takes us all over the Southeastern US.

What do you need from me?

Ballooning is my passion.  Fortunately though, it is not something I can do alone…it requires a balloon team.  Why fortunately?  Because I also love to be around fun people.  A balloon team is made up of a pilot and a crew.  The position of pilot is already filled but we have openings on the crew

How would I fit in…what kind of people chase balloons?

My crew is made up of men and women over the age of 21, who are enthusiastic, dependable and available. I especially like people with a sparkle in their eyes and a real zest for living.  Past and present crewmembers have included:

Small business owners, administrative assistants, IT people, college students, day care school director, fireman, grocery stock clerk, nurses, wall paper installers, and many more…

These are people of all ages who enjoy being outdoors, being active and being around people.  The male/female split is close to 50/50.  The age range is broad, but the curve does favor young adults.

Why do I need to be over 21?

Every flight ends with a champagne toast and there is always beer in the cooler for the passengers.  And yes, for the crew after the flight. 

Can a friend or significant other crew with me?

Yes!  Some crewmembers chase individually…an opportune break from the rest of the family.  Other crewmembers come out only as couples.  They find this a fun activity that they can share together. A note of caution, though… in the previous section I mentioned enthusiasm.  It is expected that all crewmembers like ballooning.  If you like balloons, and your spouse (friend, etc.) does not, then their lack of enthusiasm will be apparent to everyone…especially to my paying passengers.  If you would like to have friends crew with you, please wait until you have been with us for a couple of flights before inviting them out.  I keep mentioning that this is fun, but it is fun in a very serious way. Until you are comfortable with your duties, crew “guests” can be a distraction, which could jeopardize the safety of the flight.  This is also not cast in stone, though.

What kind of skills or experience do I need?

None.  We teach you all you need to know. A valid driver’s license is real helpful.  There is some lifting involved, but we try to work smart…not hard.  Big people lift big stuff, little people lift little stuff.  Remember that this is an outdoor activity.  We have sun, insects, pollen, real cold, real hot and very humid conditions to contend with.  If you have difficulty controlling asthma, for example, or if you have chronic back problems, you might want to consider a different activity.  Make sure that I am aware of any restrictions you may feel that you have.  If you are not sure if a condition would limit your participation, ask me.

What do I do as a crewmember?

As a crewmember, you have 2 primary and very distinctive jobs.  When the balloon is on the ground, you are the ground crew.  Once the balloon takes off, you become the chase crew.  The ground crew assembles and inflates the balloon before the flight and then deflates it and packs it up after the flight. The chase crew is made up of a Driver, a Navigator, and a Spotter.  The driver gets the chase van from the launch site to the landing site without getting tickets, and without getting the van stuck in a ditch or in an accident.  The navigator follows the flight using a map and tells the driver where to go…sometimes literally.  The spotter keeps the navigator aware of where the balloon is.

 What time do the flights take place and how long does a flight take?

Balloons are only flown within 1.5 hours of sunrise or within 1.5 hours of sunset.  I do very few sunrise flights.  The balloon is in the air about 1 to 1.5 hours, but the entire operation takes about 4 hours (assuming the crew finds me when I land).  Evening flights always meet 2.5 hours before sunset. 

 Earlier I mentioned availability.  No matter how much you may love balloons, if you work until 6pm 5 days a week, and go to the beach every weekend, then I appreciate your interest but you are not available when we fly.  I won’t be able to use you until your schedule changes.

How often do you fly and how often do you need me?

Last year a few crewpeople crewed for only 1 flight and 1 crewperson actually came out 65 times.  The average was 9 flights per crewperson.  From April 1 to November 15 (daylight savings time plus a couple of weeks), we are available to fly seven days a week.  The rest of the year (standard time), we fly weekends only.  As far as scheduling crew goes, I like to have each crewperson select 1 day a week that works for them.  For example, Tuesday may be good for you.  Then we both know that you will be one of the crewmembers every Tuesday.  If the weather is bad, or if I have nothing scheduled, then I call you to let you know.  If your plans change, you should let me know in time to find an alternate. Earlier I mentioned dependability.   Please imagine that you have just spent a ton of money to surprise that most special person in your life with the greatest birthday gift ever…a hot air balloon ride.  Then the pilot says, ”I’m afraid we’re not flying today because we don’t have enough crew”.  They’re not happy.  I’m not happy.  Nobody’s happy.  We are VERY flexible and understanding, but if you say you’ll be there, you need to be there.

What do I wear?

We’re casual but neat...jeans, golf shirt, tennis shoes and leather gloves.  Don’t buy gloves until you see what we use.   Long pants are a pain in the summer but they are highly recommended.  We spend a lot of time in open fields with briars, insects and the like.  You be happier wearing waterproof ‘ducks’ if someone actually talks me into a morning flight.  Obviously, good personal hygiene is most important.

Great! I’m hyped.  Now, what do I get out of this?

Materially, not too much I’m afraid.  A golf shirt if I’ve had some made up recently and every 8 times that you crew you get credit for a free balloon ride for one, 16 times for two.  We crew because we love balloons, we want to do something ‘completely different’.  (Some crew because they like drinking the pilot’s beer).   We crew because we enjoy the challenge of using our brains to plot where the balloon is going to land and to be there first.  We are amazed each time we bring that 8 story gentle giant to life.   We’re awed by spectacular sunsets, communing with Nature and just being outdoors.  Some of us appreciate the physical activity, but we all love to see the changes in the passenger’s faces from the blank stare of insecurity before the flight to grinning ear to ear after.

How often do I get to fly?

That depends upon how often you come out.  If you crew 8 times a year, you can figure on flying once a year.   If you travel with us to races, you can expect to fly during the race.  That’s not always possible but we try.  Most of our paid flights are private but many are not.  When we have a full 3-person crew and the flight is not private, I love to fly one of the crew.  If you wish to save your crews so you can fly privately with one of your friends, then you must have crewed 16 times.

How do I sign up?

Call me at 781-3433…that’s home and office. I’ll ask you to fill out an info sheet so I know how to get in touch with you.  Then come out with us and see if you like what we do, and us.

Thank you for your interest, Tom