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 Station (AFSS).
  • 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 newspaper.

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 dealership.
  • 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 balloons.

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.

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