Pilot, crew, and passengers need to dress sensibly. Proper clothing protects participants from burns, poison oak/ivy, and other harmful plants. If it becomes necessary to walk or hike from a landing site inaccessible by the chase vehicle, proper clothing and footwear makes the task easier and less hazardous.

Personal Health

You need to be in good health and well-rested before making a flight. If you do not feel well, do not fly. You will not be at your best and may make mistakes. Get a good night’s sleep before making a flight.


The preflight, as an aeronautical term, is generally agreed to be the airworthiness check of an aircraft immediately before flight. In the broadest sense, preflight is everything accomplished in preparation for a flight. In this chapter, preflight operations are operations that occur at the balloon launch site, up to and including the preflight inspection.

Wind Direction

Consider the wind direction before the balloon is even unloaded from the chase vehicle. Take into account the surface wind at the time of cold inflation to avoid carrying a heavy balloon bag and basket around. A Murphy’s Law type of rule is that the wind will always change during inflation. Local knowledge is invaluable. If other balloons are around, check with the most experienced local pilot.

A wind change at or shortly after sunrise is normal in many places. If you lay your balloon out before sunrise, a wind change may be likely. If you are flying in a new place, watch the local pilots. They may have knowledge that you should heed.

Some general trends are that air usually flows downhill or down valley, first thing in the morning, and air usually flows from cold to warm in the morning. This air drainage may stop very shortly after the sun rises and starts heating the ground. This early morning wind may come from a different direction than the prevailing or predicted wind.

Some local pilots may lay their balloons out in a direction that does not match the airflow at the time, but that will be correct 15 to 30 minutes later when the sunrise change occurs and the inflation starts. Pibals (small balloons filled with helium) are excellent low-level wind direction indicators.

Launch Site

When selecting a launch site factors to consider are obstacles in direction of flight (power lines, buildings, towers, etc.), available landing sites, overhead airspace, and the launch site surface. After considering landing sites and airspace, the launch site surface is the most important.

Launch Site Surface

After determining the wind direction, the next condition that determines the details of the balloon layout is the actual launch site surface. Of course, all pilots wish they could always lay out their balloon on clean, dry, short, green grass. Most pilots are not that fortunate unless they have their own launch site and never fly from different places. Wise pilots modify their techniques to match available conditions, or they have more than one layout procedure to adapt to various launch sites.

Whether flying from a regular launch site, a brandnew location, or from an assigned square at a rally, check the ground for items that may damage or soil the balloon. Look for and remove nails, sharp rocks, twigs, branches, and other foreign objects. If there are patches of oil or other substances, cover them with pieces of carpet, floor mats from the chase vehicle, tarps, or the envelope bag. Some pilots cover the ground where they lay out their balloon with a large tarp every time they fly.

Unless flying at a known site, do not assume it is all right to drive the chase vehicle directly onto the launch area. There are some locations (a soft athletic field, for example) where it is necessary to carry the balloon onto the launch area. In any case, once the balloon and fan are unloaded, drive the chase vehicle out of the launch area so it is not an obstacle to your balloon or other balloons.

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