This chapter introduces elements the balloon pilot
needs to consider when preparing for a flight. The
sections include flight planning, preflight
operations, the use of a checklist, preflight
inspection, the crew, and the chase.
Flight planning starts long in advance of the night
before the launch. Title 14 of the Code of Federal
Regulations (14 CFR) part 91, section 91.103
states: “Each pilot in command shall, before
beginning a flight, become familiar with all
available information concerning that flight....” The
following paragraphs outline various elements to
be considered in flight planning.
A good balloonist pays constant attention to the
weather. You should begin to study the weather
several days before the day of the flight. Weather
runs in cycles and understanding the cycles in your
area will help you make successful flights.
Weather background preparation
- Visit the nearest National Weather Service
(NWS) office and FAA Automated Flight Service
- Check the library for books about weather in
your specific area.
- Talk with pilots of other types of aircraft; talk
with farmers, sailors, and fishermen, if appropriate.
- Watch local television weather shows,
particularly the 5-day forecasts.
- Listen to local radio weather information.
- Read the weather section of the local
Specific weather preparation
- On the evening before a flight call an AFSS for
an outlook briefing (6 or more hours before the
proposed launch—know what hours an AFSS
makes new information available).
- Devote particular attention to television or
radio weather reports the night before a flight.
- Locate and use automated weather stations:
NWS, Automatic Terminal Information Service
(ATIS), Automatic Weather Observing System
(AWOS), Harbor Masters, Highway Department,
and State Parks.
- On the morning of a flight, phone an AFSS for
a Standard Briefing.
- On the way to the launch site, develop weather
observation points, such as a tree in someone’s
yard, smoke at a factory, or a flag at a car
- At the launch site, check a windsock or
tetrahedron, talk with other pilots, or send up a pilot
balloon (pibal). Observe smoke, flags, or other
Weather record keeping
- Compare predictions to actual weather.
- Compare past predictions to future predictions
and make your own prediction.
- Compare reports from nearby reporting stations
to actual weather at your launch site.
Weather preflight briefing
Before each flight get a complete briefing from
weather sources in the local area. See appendix A
for sample weather briefing checklists that you can
used as a guides to develop your own personal
forms for recording weather briefings.