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