Step-Down Approach

The step-down approach method involves varying descent rates. This procedure is used to determine lower level wind velocities and directions so that options may be considered until beginning the final descent phase to landing. There are other methods to evaluate lower level wind conditions, such as dropping strips of paper, etc., or small balloons. While the descent path can be varied and sometimes may be quite shallow, it is important to avoid long, level flight segments below minimum safe altitudes without intending to land. Level flight at low altitudes could lead an observer to believe that you have discontinued the approach and established level flight at less than a minimum safe altitude.

Low Approach

The second type of approach is a low or shallow approach. If there are no obstacles between the balloon and the proposed landing site, a low or shallow approach allows you to check the wind closer to the surface. Also, the closer you are to the surface, the easier it is to land.


If there is an obstacle between the balloon and the landing site, the following are the three safe choices.

1. Give the obstacle appropriate clearance and drop in from altitude.
2. Reject the landing and look for another site to land.
3. Fly a low approach to the obstacle, fly over the obstacle allowing plenty of room, and then make the landing.

The first choice is the most difficult, requiring landing from a high approach and then a fast descent at low altitude. The second choice is the most conservative, but may not be available if you are approaching your last landing site. The third choice is preferable. Flying toward the site at low altitude provides an opportunity to check the surface winds. By clearing the obstacle while ascending—always the safest option—you will end up with a short, but not too high, approach.

The advantage of a low approach is apparent in situations where, when you get the balloon close to the ground, you find the wind direction is different from what you had assumed or planned. If you have started your approach, some distance from your landing target, you may have time to climb back to the wind that takes you in the desired direction and still have a chance to make your original target. In some cases, finding out too late that there is an adverse wind near the surface makes the planned landing impossible. This type of approach requires more skill in order to avoid overcorrecting.

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