At 17, Victoria Vertrees may have been one of the youngest pilots to take flight at this year's Balloon Fiesta, but she was no newcomer to the world of ballooning. Taking time between homework assignments and college applications, Veronica shares how she became involved and what it's like to pilot a hot air balloon in this month’s Inside the Basket.
Give a brief overview of your background and how you became involved with Balloon Fiesta.
I first started ballooning as a crew member for Dale Wong back in 2010 and came to my first Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2011, where I had my first balloon ride. I have been in love with the sport ever since. I got my student certificate in September 2013 when I was just 14 years old. I completed my flight training and earned my private pilots certificate in December 2015 when I was just 16 years old.
What inspired you to become a pilot?
I was introduced to the sport by Dale Wong, a college friend of my dad’s, who offered to train me and my brother. I was inspired to become a pilot because it's such a unique sport and I wanted to help it grow. I had such a drive to be a young woman pilot since there are so few.
Describe what the experience has been like as a pilot?
I've had such an awesome experience as a pilot. The other pilots in the balloon community are very welcoming and happy to get young people in the sport. Being the pilot in command is a big responsibility. Having to be responsible for my crew and equipment can be scary at such a young age, but I try not to doubt my pilot decision making. I try to be prepared for any and all situations and not be scared of what could happen and focus on the present.
I would encourage any young person interested in becoming a pilot to do so. It is such an amazing sport with a lot of room to grow. I would encourage young student pilots to go to various balloon events or camps to get a better idea of all the kinds of flying there is in the ballooning community.
What advice can you give to visitors who have never experienced the event?
There are so many opportunities for visitors to get up close to the balloons at Balloon Fiesta. I would encourage first time visitors to go to the glows or to sign up to volunteer as crew. The events are an even better experience when you are close up and get caught up in the excitement of crewing and chasing.
What is next for you?
As a result of ballooning and attending a hot air balloon summer camp in Reno, I became interested in the weather. I'm currently hoping to go to college in the fall and pursue a degree in meteorology.