Briefing to Crew and Passengers

Prior to the actual inflation, you should brief the crew and any passengers.

Crew Briefing

Whether this is the crewmembers’ first time or onehundredth time crewing, they should be briefed before each flight. Instructions contained in the briefing may be less detailed for an experienced crew. The following instructions should be given for each flight.

  • The position and duties during inflation.
  • The duties once the balloon has reached equilibrium.
  • The estimated length of flight and any information that will aid the chase and recovery.

Passenger Briefing

Prior to inflation is the most appropriate time to give passengers their first briefing for behavior during the flight and landing. Inform them that during the landing they should stand in the basket where you indicate (based on wind conditions), facing the direction of flight, with feet and knees together, knees slightly bent, holding tightly to the sides of the basket. They are not to exit the basket until instructed to do so by you, the pilot.

The balloon is ready for inflation once the preflight preparation is complete. Equipment is stowed in the basket and in the chase vehicle. Park the chase vehicle upwind, out of the way in case of a wind change, with the keys in the ignition.

The Inflation

After the balloon is correctly laid out, place the inflation fan to the side of the burner within arm’s reach of the pilot, facing into the center of the envelope mouth, making sure the fan blades are not in line with the pilot, crew, or spectators. If the fan is well designed and maintained, it will not move around and will not require constant attention during operation. Exact fan placement depends on the type of fan, burner, and size of the envelope. Pump air into the envelope and not under, over, or to the side of the mouth.

You should place one crewmember at each side of the mouth of the balloon to lift the mouth material and create an opening for air to enter the envelope. During cold inflation (i.e., with the fan only) hold the mouth open wide enough to admit air from the fan. Inflate the balloon to approximately 50 to 75 percent full of cold air.

At this point, you should check to see that control lines are correctly deployed, and that the deflation panel is correctly positioned. This can all be done through or in the vent or from the top; it is not necessary to walk on the fabric.

Once you complete the preflight inspection and are satisfied that the envelope contains enough ambient air to begin hot inflation, the two crewmembers at the mouth should hold the mouth open as wide and as tall as possible, to keep the fabric away from the burner flame. The crewmembers should face away from the burner. Before activating the blast valve, you should make eye contact with each crewmember at the mouth and make sure they are ready. Crew readiness is very important. The crew on the mouth of the envelope must be aware the burner is about to be used.

At this point, the fan has been facing into the center of the mouth. If the fan remains in this position, the burner flame will be distorted and bend toward a crewmember. Redirect the fan toward the nearest corner of the envelope mouth. With the fan directed parallel to the burner flame, there will be less distortion of the flame and less tendency for the air from the fan to bend the flame to one side.

The first burn or blast of the burner should be a short one to confirm the correct direction of the flame and to check the readiness of the mouth crew. If they are startled by the flame or noise and drop the fabric, the short burn will minimize damage.

Now that the fan is facing the correct direction, parallel to the burner flame, and the crew is ready, you can inflate the balloon. To minimize damage to the envelope and discomfort of the crew, inflate the balloon with a series of short burns and pauses, rather than one continuous blast. Inflate using standard burns, with short pauses of about 2 seconds between burns. The pauses give the fabric and skin a chance to cool and allow communication between you and the crew, if necessary. Under some circumstances, you will notice a contraction and inflation of the balloon mouth. You can easily time the burns to match the expansion of the mouth to avoid damaging the fabric during a contraction. These mouth movements are called breathing and burns should be timed to match the full open time. Later in this chapter the one-long-blast style is explained.

Allow the fan to run at a reduced speed until the balloon mouth lifts off the ground and is no longer receiving air. If the fan is turned off too soon, envelope air will come back out of the mouth and the backwash distorts the flame at the beginning and end of each blast. Do not hurry to turn off the fan.

The next step is to continue the burn-and-pause routine until the balloon is nearly ready to leave the ground. The crew should be standing by the basket ready to hold the balloon (hands on), in case you miscalculate and the balloon starts to lift off the ground before you are ready.

Many pilots fail to achieve equilibrium (see Glossary for definition) immediately after inflation. If equilibrium is not achieved, the balloon is much more susceptible to wind. For example, if the envelope is not full, a slight wind can cave in a side causing a spinnaker effect. If the balloon is erect, but not ready to fly, the pilot has only one option should the balloon start to move horizontally; the pilot must deflate. If the balloon is only 5 or 10 seconds of heat away from lifting off, the pilot has the choice of deflation or launch. In order to exercise the launch option, all equipment and passengers must be on board.

When inflating under variable wind conditions, in a confined area, or at a rally with other balloons, you should place a crewmember on the crown line to keep the envelope in line with the burner and to minimize rolling. If you have a person on the crown line, it should be someone of average size. If it takes more than one person to stabilize the balloon, it is probably too windy to fly.

The duty of the crown line crewmember is to hold the end of the line, lean away from the envelope, and use body weight to stabilize the envelope. This person must wear leather gloves, which provide a good grip on the line, and must never wrap the line around a wrist (or any other body part).

As the air is heated and the envelope starts to rise, the crewmember holding the crown line should allow the line to pull him towards the basket, putting resistance on the line to keep the envelope from swaying or moving too fast. Release the line slowly when the envelope is vertical.

The crown line varies in length. Some pilots let the line hang straight down; some pilots connect the end of the line to the basket or burner frame. Other pilots keep the line only long enough to assist with a windy inflation, or deflation in a confined area. Usually, there are no knots in the crown line, but you might find a type of loop attached to it. Some pilots put knots in their line, or attach flags or other objects. These may snag in trees and cause problems. Lines tied to the basket form a huge loop that may snag a tree limb and should be secured with a light, breakaway tie. Once the balloon is fully inflated and standing upright, at least one crewmember should stand near the basket to assist with passenger entry and to receive any lastminute instructions. Stow the fan and all other equipment in the chase vehicle and clear the area. Now the balloon is ready for launch.

Earlier in this chapter, it was stated that there are many different styles of inflation. The procedure described above is just one style.

Some pilots prefer to inflate the balloon with onelong- blast of the burner. The advantage of this type of inflation is that the balloon inflates a few seconds faster and the mouth tends to stay fully open during the process. There are several disadvantages. Voice communication is nearly impossible due to the noise of the burner. Anyone or anything within 6 feet of the burner may get burned. Also, some burners could be discolored or damaged by long burns. Properly used, a modern balloon burner should look like new and last a long time. Misused, a burner will discolor, warp, and leak.

Many pilots like to pack the balloon full of cold air using a large fan. This may make a tighter mouth, helping the pilot to avoid burning fabric, and the balloon may be less affected by a light wind when it is round and tight. However, if the balloon is filled with cold air, the actual hot inflation will takes a little longer.

Another style used is tying-down or tying-off the balloon before a cold inflation. Some balloon event organizers require that the balloon be secured, usually due to limited space at the launch site or marginal wind conditions. Tying a balloon may not be an adequate solution for either situation; however, there may be occasions when a pilot is required to tie-off a balloon.

Every major balloon manufacturer specifies the approved method for tying off, but few have described an approved inflation tie-down system. Balloon baskets, suspensions, load plates, and burner supports have been destroyed by improper tie-off in light winds. If tying down for inflation is a must, ask the manufacturer of the balloon for instructions for inflation tie-down and use only the balloon manufacturer’s recommended procedures and techniques.

The first requirement is to comply with factory recommendations for the tie-down system. The second requirement is to have something substantial to tie off to. This requirement is in direct conflict with the basic rule not to have obstacles near the balloon during inflation. Whatever the balloon is being tied to will probably be, or become, an obstacle. A wind change during inflation can turn an envelope into a chase vehicle cover. Being draped over a chase vehicle can be devastating to an envelope!

If the tie-off line is attached near the burners, the line becomes a restriction to the directions available for aiming the flame. As the envelope inflates and tries to stand erect, the restraining line can interfere with appropriate movement of the basket.

For an early morning flight, many pilots argue that, if the wind is so strong at launch time that you must tiedown, it is likely the wind will be even stronger at landing time. Therefore, it might not be prudent to take off when a high-wind landing is probable.

Some pilots state their preference for tying down at launch by explaining that they may have had a real problem and the balloon might have gotten away, if they had not tied down. Generally, in such cases, the real problem was continuing inflation in conditions that were too windy. If you must tie down, use the proper equipment, a strong release mechanism, an appropriate anchor, and remember that the tie-down line may be a danger when released under tension.

The inflation is the first action of ballooning that requires a pilot in command. The inflation should be safe and efficient. Now, the balloon is ready to fly.

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