Pack all equipment and have it ready the night before a flight. Check to see that the balloon, fan, and vehicle are fueled; vehicle tires are inflated; required documentation is in the balloon; and all necessary maps, radios, and other equipment are loaded in your chase vehicle.

Launch Site

Most balloonists fly regularly from several known launch sites. Unless you launch from a public airport or public balloon area, renew permission to use the site(s) on a regular basis. Do not assume because another pilot uses a certain launch area that anyone can automatically use it.

Purpose of Flight

Preflight planning may vary slightly according to the flight’s purpose. If you are carrying passengers, you need to tell them where and when to meet. If you are flying in an organized event, you need to carry your airworthiness and registration certificates with you in case you are required to show them. Also, make sure that your maintenance and insurance records (documentation not normally carried in the balloon) are available for inspection.

Special Circumstances

Most balloon flying is in relatively unhostile terrain and in relatively clement weather. The special circumstances described may be normal for a small percentage of pilots.

Mountain flying

You should plan for the possibility of not being met by the chase crew at the landing site, since following a balloon can be difficult in mountainous terrain. Most pilots carry some additional equipment in the balloon that they do not carry on flatland flights. Suggested provisions and equipment are water, some additional warm clothing or a sleeping bag, a strobe, a radio, a compass, a lightweight shelter (a mylar sheet can be made into a simple tent, for example), and a good map or maps of the area. Pilot and crew should agree on a lost balloon plan.

Cold weather flying

The two main considerations for cold weather flying are keeping the pilot, crew, and passengers warm, and maintaining adequate pressure in the balloon’s fuel system.

Layered clothing that entraps warm air is standard cold-weather gear. A hat is important, as significant body heat escapes from the head. Warm gloves and footwear are a must. Remember to have antifreeze in the chase vehicle. Carry chains, a shovel, and a windshield wiper/scraper if there is a possibility of snow.

As propane gets colder, it has less pressure. To ensure adequate pressure in cold weather, add nitrogen (using manufacturer-approved kits), heat the propane, or keep the propane warm. There are several sources that offer tank covers and heating coils. Inspect electrically heated tank covers often, as normal wear and tear and tie-down straps can cause an electrical short circuit, which could start a serious fire during heating. Use tank heaters with extra care. Never heat your tanks within 50 feet of an open flame, or near an appliance with a pilot light, or in a closed room without natural ventilation.

Flying in New Territory

Before making a flight in an area that is new to you, make sure balloonists are welcome. Talk to local balloonists. To locate local balloonists:

  • Call the nearest Flight Standards District Office (FSDO)—ask for the name of a balloon pilot examiner or aviation safety counselor.
  • Look in the yellow pages under balloons.
  • Check for local balloon clubs in the area.

If there are no balloonists in the local area, talk to other pilots or local law enforcement offices. Let them know you are planning a flight and ask their advice.

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