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
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.
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.
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.