No other aircraft has as many different types of landings as a balloon. Most aircraft, including gliders and helicopters, land on relatively smooth, hard places. Balloons rarely land on smooth, hard places. Since the balloon is stronger than people are and less susceptible to damage, a soft landing is one that is judged to be easy on the passengers.

Birds are probably the only flying things that have more available landing sites. Balloons can land safely in places that most other aircraft cannot. Balloons can land on the ground or in the water, on the flat or side of a hill, in bushes or trees (with maybe a little damage), on plowed and irrigated fields, in snow or mud. There is an infinite variety of suitable balloon landing sites and rarely are two balloon landings alike.

When a landing site is being considered, you should first think about the suitability of the site. “Is it safe, is it legal, and is it polite?” When considering surface winds, you should make certain there is adequate access to the site with respect to obstructions.

Some Basic Rules of Landing

The final, safe resting place of the balloon is a major consideration in landing. Making a soft landing is not as important as getting the balloon where you want it. Having an easy retrieval is not as important as an accident-free, appropriate landing site.

Plan the landing early enough so that fuel quantity is not a distraction. Plan on landing with enough fuel so that even if your first approach to a landing site is unsuccessful, there is enough fuel to make a couple more approaches.

The best landing site is one that is bigger than you need and has alternatives. If you have three prospective sites in front of you, aim for the one in the middle in case your surface wind estimate was off. If you have multiple prospective landing sites in a row along your path, take the first one and save the others for a miscalculation. Unless there is a 180° turn available, all the landing sites behind are lost.

The best altitude for landing is the lowest altitude. Anyone can land from 1 foot above the ground; it takes skill to land from 100 feet.

A low approach, assuming no obstacles, gives you the slowest touchdown speed because the winds are usually lightest close to the ground.

It is usually better to fly over an obstacle and land beyond it than to land in front of it. Overfly powerlines, trees, and water, among other obstacles, on the way to the landing, rather than attempting to land in front of them and risk being dragged into them.

Before beginning your approach, plan to fly a reasonable descent path to the landing site, using the step-down approach method, the low (shallow) approach method, or a combination of the two. [Figure 3-1]

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