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.

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