Briefing to Crew and Passengers
Prior to the actual inflation, you should brief the
crew and any passengers.
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
- The estimated length of flight and any
information that will aid the chase and recovery.
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.