Ben fell in love with hot air balloon when he was invited to fly his paramotor around a host of balloons launching from an event, after which he was invited to hop in by some pilots to experience a flight for himself.

"I loved the camaraderie and teamwork that goes into preparing balloons for take off and recovery, I loved the 'randomness' of the flight and when we landed, we met a wonderful landowner who was so welcoming and please to see us," he said.

Shortly after this, Ben had the chance to join a group of young competition balloon pilots as a crew member, spending several days with balloon pilots and crew from all over the world and enjoying mass balloon ascents of up to 100 balloons at a time.

He found tracking the balloons as ground crew 'exhilarating' and said those 'amazing' few days got him fully hooked on ballooning and wanting to become a pilot himself.

"I did everything possible after that to get back in the basket. Countless long drives through the night to help crew for balloons, staying on friends' sofas ready for a 4am start and I asked so many pilots so many questions to learn more and understand their flying styles.

"That determination meant I managed to get my private pilot's licence pretty quickly, using the best of what many different pilots had taught me. It was actually the Chief Pilot for Virgin, Ken, who is a ballooning examiner that did my licence examination flight.

"I crewed for Virgin Balloon Flights during my training, as it was a chance to share my passion for aviation and introduce new people to the magic of the skies."

More time passed and Ben knew he wanted to fly for Virgin Balloon Flights one day.

"I set about building my hours and skills to not only reach, but I wanted to exceed the standard required for a commercial balloon pilot flying passengers," he said.

"A balloon has extremely simple controls and on the surface could seem a simple aircraft to fly, but to fly a balloon accurately it requires a true feel for the aircraft and the ability to 'visualise' how the sky and land affect each other.

"When you learn to fly that way, the balloon becomes an extension of you in a way no other aircraft can."

Ben achieved his dream of becoming a commercial balloon pilot and initially joined us during our 2022 flying season as a 'stand in' pilot to fill in when our regular pilots were unavailable for any reason.

He believes a balloon flight is so special because each one is a different adventure.

"When you fly in a balloon, you're likely to be the first person in history to have seen the land from that position and that height. I love the opportunity to share ballooning with people and show them things they might not know about lighter than air travel."

Ben would love to fly from one of the Alpine balloon events in Europe one day but his favourite place to fly so far is England, as he feels it has everything you could ever wish to see from the air, from green fields to mountains, lakes and forests and coastlines to picturesque villages.

"There are few countries in the world with so much variety and while there are other countries you might consider more 'stunning' to fly in, I find few other places as rewarding as the UK to fly."

In his spare time, when Ben isn't flying hot air balloons, he both flies himself and teachers others how to paramotor, which is a form of paraglider with a motorised propeller 'rucksack'.

"To take off, you run across a field until you reach lift off speed, then sit back and relax in your flying deckchair to explore the skies."

Ben flies the iconic red Virgin balloon in the Lake District and Lancashire and very much loves taking passengers on an unforgettable flying experience over this beautiful part of the UK.