This chapter discusses various aspects of inflight maneuvers. It covers the standard burn, level flight, ascents and descents, horizontal control, and contour flying. Also, included is an introduction to radio communications.


Balloon pilots have few outside sources, instruments, or gauges to help them fly. When a balloon pilot uses the burner, there is no way of knowing exactly how much lift will be increased. The pyrometer tells the approximate temperature of the air surrounding the instrument's sensor, but there is no indicator or gauge to tell what the effect is on the balloon.

There are few standards in ballooning and very little are calibrated. There is little to help the balloon pilot determine how much heat is being put into the envelope. There is no gauge or dial that calibrates the number of British thermal units (Btu) that have been added to the hot air gathered above. Because there are few mechanical aids to help balloon pilots fly, some ways must be created to standardize operations so the outcome of certain actions are predictable and the balloon is controllable.

To fly with precision, the balloon pilot needs to know how much heat is going into the envelope at any given time and what that heat will do. The standard burn is one way to gauge in advance the balloon's reaction to the use of the burner.

The standard burn is an attempt to calibrate the heat being used. If each burn can be made identical, the balloon pilot can think and plan, in terms of number of burns, rather than just using random, variable amounts of heat with an unknown effect.

The standard burn is based on using the blast valve or trigger valve found on most balloon burners. Some brands use a valve that requires only a fraction of an inch of movement between closed and open, and some require moving the blast valve handle 90'°. While the amount of motion required to change the valve from fully closed to fully open varies; the principle remains the same. Try to make burns that are identical to each other.

A standard burn could be approximately 3 to 5 seconds long, depending upon the size of the envelope, condition of the envelope, and experience level of the pilot. The burn begins with the brisk, complete opening of the blast valve and ends with the brisk, complete closing of the valve at the end of the burn. Some pilots, during their training, count "one-one thousand, twoone thousand, three-one thousand," to develop the timing.

The standard burn does not mean a burn that is standard between pilots, but rather, it is an attempt for the individual pilot to make all burns exactly the same length. The goal is not only to make each burn of exactly the same length, but also to make each burn exactly the same. Therefore, the pilot must open and close the valve exactly the same way each time. Most balloon burners were designed to operate with the blast valve fully open for short periods of time. When the blast valve is only partially opened, two things happen, (1) the burner is not operating at full efficiency, and (2) the pilot is not sure how much heat is being generated. A partially opened valve is producing a fraction of the heat available, but there is no way of knowing what the fraction is.

Another advantage of briskly opening and closing the valve is to minimize the amount of time you have a yellow, soft flame. During inflation, for instance, a strong, narrow, pointed flame that goes into the mouth opening, without overheating the mouth fabric or crew, is desirable. A partial-throttle flame is wide and short, and subject to distortion by wind or the inflation fan. If less than a full burn is desired, shorten the time the valve is open, not the amount the valve is open. Due to burner design (and the inefficiency of a partially opened valve), three 1-second burns will not produce as much heat as one 3-second burn.

A pilot using evenly spaced, identical burns appears to be decisive and precise. There is something professional and experienced about the even rhythm of using standard burns.

Another advantage of evenly spaced, identical burns is passenger comfort. The noise of the burner sometimes startles passengers. When not using the burner, pilots should keep their hands away from the blast valve handle. Then, when they raise their hand to operate the blast valve handle, passengers will know what to expect and will not be surprised or startled by a noise without warning. Passengers soon become accustomed to the rhythm of the standard burn.

Using the standard burn, pilots can better predict the effect of each burn, use the burner and fuel more efficiently, and have a better flame pattern. The standard burn will be referred to when discussing specific maneuvers.

Flying by the numbers as described in this chapter is not a goal in itself, but a mechanical tool to develop smoothness and consistency. If the mechanical aspects of flying can be learned, that systematic cadence can then be converted into a rhythm that is smooth and polished. With practice, the rhythm will become second nature and pilots will fly with smooth precision, without thinking about it.

Enjoyment is greatly enhanced when a pilot can fly almost automatically, without using a great deal of concentration. This does not mean that the pilot should try to achieve thoughtless flying, but should reach a stage where relaxation is possible and enjoying the flight comes naturally.

Developing your own standard burn, and knowing that a given number of burns achieves a desired result, enhances the pleasure you derive from flying. Also, added flight experience causes greater confidence.

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