Number of Crewmembers

The crew consists of people who help with the inflation, chase, and recovery. Some pilots appoint a crew chief, normally the most experienced crewmember, but this is a matter of preference. A crew chief is responsible for other crewmembers, organizing the chase, and supervising the recovery. Remember though, the responsibility for all aspects of the flight, including ground operations, rests with you, the pilot.

The number of crewmembers is a matter of individual preference and depends upon the size of the balloon, purpose of the flight, terrain, and other factors. When using a small balloon for instruction, a crew of three people, including the instructor, student, and one crew, is sufficient. For passenger flights in large balloons, a larger number of crewmembers is generally required. Some experienced chase crews prefer to chase alone, some prefer someone along to read a map. Having too many people in the chase vehicle can be a distraction for the driver, who is concentrating on staying near the balloon.


Crewmembers should be clothed for safety and comfort. Cover or restrain long hair. Wear only long sleeves and long trousers made of cotton and not synthetic material. Try to wear clothes in layers since temperatures can change quite a bit from before sunrise to during the recovery. Proper clothing protects participants from burns, poison oak/ivy, and other harmful plants.

All crewmembers should wear gloves, preferably smooth leather, loose fitting, and easy to remove. Wear comfortable and protective footwear. 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.

Crew Briefings

Crew briefings vary from a few last minute instructions (to an experienced, regular crew), or a long, detailed discourse on how to layout, assemble, inflate, chase, recover, and pack a balloon. You can give crew briefings by telephone the night before, or in the chase vehicle on the way to the launch site, but most crew briefings are done at the launch site prior to the flight. It is important for the pilot to remember who is ultimately responsible for the entire operation and that the crew is the pilot’s representative on the ground.

Written instructions are a good way to help the crew while the pilot is aloft. Keep a loose-leaf, three-ring binder in the chase vehicle containing crew instructions and maps. This is a useful aid to an inexperienced crewmember. A sample balloon ground crew information sheet is provided. [Figure 2-2]

Types of Flight

The type of flight is important to the crew, so they know the goals of the operation; the possible time aloft; the probable direction(s) of flight; probable altitudes; communications, if any, to be used; and useful maps or charts.

Balloon flights can be classified into several different types: paid passenger, instruction, race, rally, advertising/promotion, and fun.

Many balloon pilots defray the cost of the sport by offering paid passenger rides. The crew should know that these passengers are paying for the privilege, and may have been promised a certain type and length of flight.

Instructional flights require that the crew follow the direction of the instructor, so the student may see and participate as much as possible. The crew should work closely with the instructor and student and not take over any portion of the operation, thus denying the student the opportunity to learn.

For races, crew responsibilities may be different. The pilot may have only a single goal in mind and will zero-in on that goal. The crew’s job is always to help the pilot, but in the case of the race flight, the crew should try to relieve the pilot of some of the routine tasks so he or she may concentrate on the competition.

Many rallies, require pilots to carry passengers. Sometimes passengers can be part of the inflation crew. In any case you and your crew should treat them graciously as they are, one way or another, paying for the benefits of the event. In unknown territory, you should provide the chase crew with maps, and, if desired, a local person to act as guide.

A typical flight briefing may be “I intend to make a 1- hour flight and I have about 2 hours of fuel on board. From my weather briefing and the pibal, I should travel in a southeasterly direction, but if I go west I will land before getting to the freeway. I will probably do a lot of contour flying, but may go up to 2,000 feet to look around. Let’s use channel one on the radio. There is a county road map on the front seat.”

As stated before, the optimum size inflation crew for a sport balloon is four people—the pilot operating the burner, two people holding the mouth open, and one person on the crown line. Many pilots prefer a larger number of crewmembers; however, it is important to be aware that too many crewmembers may often be working against each other due to lack of coordination.

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