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
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
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
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.