Making an approach in a congested area, and
subsequently discovering the site to be impossible
or inappropriate, is another example of possibly being
falsely accused of low flying. There are some
inconsiderate pilots who fly too low in congested
areas without reason, but they are rare. Every pilot
will have an aborted landing situation occasionally.
According to 14 CFR part 91, section 91.119 you
may fly closer to the ground than the minimum altitude,
if necessary for landing. For example, during your
approach, the balloon turns away from the obviously
preferred landing site, but there is another possible
site only one-half mile in the proper direction. You
have two choices: (1) go back up to a legal altitude
and try again, or (2) stay low, in the wind you are
sure will carry you to a good site, and try to make the
second landing site.
In making the first choice, you could be accused of
intentionally flying too low. However, with the second
choice, you will fly lower for a longer period of time,
which might appear to be a violation of the minimum
altitude regulation. This is not an argument in favor of either technique. Many pilots prefer the second
choice on the “once you go down to land, you had
better land” theory.
Landing is probably the most demanding maneuver in
ballooning. You must visualize your landing. Imagine
the path through the air and across the ground. Look
for obstacles, especially powerlines, near the
imagined track. Note surface wind velocity and
direction by looking for smoke, dust, flags, moving
trees, and anything else that indicates wind direction.
Do not be influenced too much by a wind indicator at
a distance from the proposed site if there is a good
Visualize the descent to the site. For example, imagine
you are flying level at 700 feet above ground level
(AGL) and it is time to land. Checking the fuel, you
have 30 percent remaining in two 20-gallon tanks.
Your track across the ground is toward the southeast,
but you observe a farmer’s tractor making a column
of dust that is traveling nearly due east. The dust cloud
rises from the ground at about a 45° angle. From this
information you can guess that the balloon will turn
left as it descends. This means you are looking to the
left of the line the balloon now travels. By dropping
small tissue balls, you determine that the wind changes
about halfway to the ground and continues to turn left
about 45°. Visualize your descent being no faster than
about 500 FPM initially and slowing to about 300
FPM about 400 feet AGL where you expect the turn
will start. Because the balloon will lose some lift from
the cooling effect of the wind direction change, plan
on closely monitoring your descent during the turn.
With this imagined descent in mind, search for an
appropriate landing site. The next fallow field to the
left of your present path is blocked by tall powerlines.
You reject the site.
The next field that seems appropriate is an unfenced
grain stubble field bordered by dirt roads with a 30
foot-high powerline turning along the west side, to
the left and parallel to your present track. You must
cross over the powerlines to reach your proposed
landing field. Under the powerlines is a paved road, with a row-crop of sugar beets to the right and directly
in your present path.
You select as your landing target the intersection of
the two dirt roads at the southeast corner of the field.
Your planned path would be across the field
diagonally giving the greatest distance from the
powerlines. Extending the final approach line back
over the powerlines and into the sugar beet field, select
a target for your surface wind turn. Next, set the spot
where you will begin the initial descent.
Now, reverse the procedure and perform the descent,
turn, and landing that you visualized. If all goes as
visualized, allow the balloon to cool and accelerate
to about 500 FPM. Apply some heat to arrest the
descent as you approach your imagined turning point
over the beets; level off (or maybe actually climb a
bit) as you cross over the powerlines (about 200 feet
above them); allow the balloon to cool again as you
set up another descent across the stubble field. Due
to the 7 miles per hour (MPH) estimated wind, allow
the basket to touch down about 150 feet out from the
dirt road intersection to lose some momentum as the
basket bounces and skids over to the road, just where
Imagine now, how the landing might have occurred
not knowing the surface wind was different from the
flightpath. Maybe the less considerate pilot would
plan on landing in the beets. Maybe the crop will not
be hurt and the farmer will not care. Unfortunately,
the balloon turns unexpectedly toward the powerlines,
causing the pilot to make several burns of
undetermined amount, setting up a climb that prevents
the pilot from landing on the dirt road. The road is
right in line with the balloon’s track, but disappearing
behind the balloon. Another good landing site becomes
unusable because of the lack of planning.
The thoughtful pilot makes a nice landing on a dirt
road with 25 percent fuel remaining, while the
unprepared pilot dives, turns, climbs, and is now back
at 600 feet in the air looking for another landing site.
For the next attempt, the pilot will have less fuel and
be under more pressure, all because of not noticing
the powerlines to the left and not checking the wind on the ground before making the descent. The first
pilot visualized a plan, executed the plan, and is safely
on the ground while the second pilot is saying, “Well,
let’s go down again and see what happens.”
Do not have a “let’s see what happens” attitude. Have