Direction of Flight
The first element of the flight the chase crew must know
is the direction the balloon is going. It is important to
understand that the balloon’s direction is very difficult
to detect from a moving vehicle. Many pilots
recommend that the chase crew drive the chase vehicle
away from the launch site only far enough away to get
the vehicle out of the way of the balloon (and other
balloons) and to get clear of any possible spectator
crowds. As soon as the crew is sure they are clear of
other traffic, they should park in a suitable place, and
with a good view of the balloon, determine the
balloon’s direction of flight. There is no point in rushing
after the balloon until you know where it is going. The
balloon changes direction shortly after launch if the
winds aloft are different from the surface winds.
After a while the crew should proceed to a point
estimated to be in the balloon’s path. In other words,
get in front of the balloon so it will fly over the chase
vehicle. If the balloon is moving at 5 knots, the chase
crew need only drive a short time to get in front of the
balloon. The direction of flight is much easier to
determine if the balloon is floating directly toward you
rather than flying parallel to the vehicle’s path.
If a radio is not being used, as the balloon flies over
the chase vehicle, the pilot and crew can
communicate by voice or with hand signals. In this
instance the crew should be outside the vehicle with
the engine turned off.
Use of a navigator with an appropriate map in the
chase vehicle can be very helpful, especially during
the early stages of the chase. The balloon may be
flying a straight line, but the chase vehicle must
follow roads. It is handy for the driver to have
someone tell him or her when and where to turn.
Many pilots do not use radios because of the noise
and distraction a radio can cause in the basket.
However, in unfamiliar territory, where there are few
roads, and near towered airports, a radio may be
useful or even necessary.
Chase Crew Behavior
During the chase, remember to drive legally and
politely. The chase crew is of no use to the pilot if
the police stop them. A chase vehicle speeding
around the countryside will unfavorably impress
local residents. Speeding is bad for obvious reasons.
Also, it is bad because it may give an impression of
an emergency when none exists. Even if the chase
vehicle is not painted like a circus wagon or
advertising truck, local residents will soon put two
and two together and figure out the person in the
vehicle is chasing the balloon.
If possible, the chase crew should try to keep the
chase vehicle in sight of the balloon. The pilot may
be comforted to know the crew is nearby and not
stuck in a ditch, or off somewhere changing a flat
tire. When the vehicle is stopped at the side of the
road, park it in the open so the entire vehicle is
visible to the balloon pilot.
While chasing, the crew should observe all NO
TRESPASSING and KEEP OUT signs, and stay on
public, paved roads. Vehicular trespass is common
and the laws are very restrictive regarding vehicles
on private property. Pilots and their chase crews
should adhere to local trespass laws.
The chase crew should not drive the chase vehicle
into the landing field until permission has been
received, or at least until the pilot and the crew are
in agreement that it is okay to drive into the field. If
the crew is unsure, it is better to walk into the field
and consult with the pilot.
The chase crew is the pilot’s personal representative
on the ground. Any action taken by the chase crew
reflects directly on the balloon pilot. Chasing a
balloon is a lot of fun. Like flying, the better it is
done, the more fun it is.