Pilot/Crew Communications

Radio communication between the balloon and the chase vehicle is fairly common. If you use radios, obey all Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. Use call signs, proper language, and keep transmissions short. Many balloonists prefer not to use radios to communicate with their chase vehicle because it can be distracting to both pilot and chase vehicle driver. In any case, it is a good idea to agree on a common phone number before a flight in case the chase crew loses the balloon.

The crew is the pilot’s ground representative to spectators, passengers, police, landowners, press, and anyone else who may have occasion to be interested in the balloon. The crew should always act responsibly because their actions reflect directly upon the pilot.

The pilot is responsible for all aspects of the flight. Crewmembers should follow instructions even if they have learned different techniques from other pilots. Do not assume anything, because different pilots may expect different things from their crew. Before the noise and momentum make discussion difficult, you should give the crew briefing and any requirements discussed with the pilot before inflation.

While it is desirable to have the chase crew present at the landing, the crew should remember the balloon pilot could land without assistance. The crew should not do anything dangerous or inconsiderate in an attempt to assist in the landing.


Chase Crew

To begin with, a chase crew needs a reliable and suitable vehicle. Suggested items to carry might be a clock or wristwatch, maps and aeronautical charts, compass, binoculars, communications radio, and gifts for local people and landowners that may volunteer to help.

The chase crew may be one person or many. When offering seats in the chase vehicle, do not forget to leave room for all occupants of the balloon for the trip back.

Two people in the chase vehicle is best for a typical hot air balloon chase this allows for one to drive and one to watch. Chasing balloons is more watching and less driving, but it is nice to be able to separate the two jobs. Most of the time, the chase crew is parked alongside the road watching the balloon drift slowly toward them.

Pre-launch Considerations

The chase usually starts when the balloon leaves the ground, but there are preparations that must be made before inflation. For instance, the chase crew must have the keys to the chase vehicle. The last place the car keys should be is in the pocket of the balloon pilot, who is already in the air.

Another prelaunch consideration should be to get the chase vehicle clear of the launch site and ready to depart. Sometimes, the chase vehicle becomes trapped at the launch site because of spectators and vehicles blocking their way. At launch time, balloon watchers usually become enchanted and completely mesmerized by the beautiful balloons, oblivious to the efforts of the chase crews to get out and start chasing. In such situations, it is prudent to get the chase vehicle in position for the chase before the inflation begins.

Another consideration is for the pilot to remind the chase crew of the conditions and purposes of the flight. The crew does a better job if they know the approximate direction of the flight, maximum time in the air, possibility of multiple flights, known terrain hazards, and preferred landing sites. If the pilot forgets to give an appropriate briefing to the chase crew, the crew should ask. The best time to cover this briefing is before the inflation begins, as a checklist item.

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