Aborted Landings

People often misinterpret aborted landings on the ground as buzzing or rude flying. Sometimes landing sites seem to be elusive. A typical situation has the pilot descending to land at an appropriate site, but the pilot has miscalculated the winds below and the balloon turns away from the open field toward a farmhouse. "Oops, got to go back up and look for another landing site," thinks the pilot. What is the farmer on the ground thinking? The farmer sees the balloon descend, turn towards the house, and then, with noisy burners roaring, zoom back into the air and proceed. A perfect case of buzzing. The pilot was not being rude or evil, just inconsiderate, inexperienced, or both. The pilot did not mean to swoop down to buzz the house; the wind changed.

Had the pilot watched something drop from the basket to gauge the winds below, or been more observant, the pilot would have known the balloon would turn towards the house as it descended. A squirt of shaving foam from an aerosol can, or a small piece of rolled up tissue could have told the pilot of the wind change at lower altitudes.

Two or three of these swoops over a sparsely populated area, and people on the ground may not only think the pilot is buzzing houses, some people may think the pilot is having a problem and is in trouble. That is when the well-meaning landowner calls the police to report a balloon in trouble.

Flying too close to a house (your friends house, for example) to say hello, dragging the field, giving people a thrill by flying too low over a gathering, are examples of buzzing, which is illegal and can be hazardous.

Identification of Animal Population

Balloonists must learn how to locate and identify animals on the ground. Even though it may be legal to fly at a certain low altitude, animals do not know the laws, nor do most of their owners. If you cause dogs to bark, turkeys to panic, or horses to run, even while flying legally, you may provide legitimate cause for complaint.

Flight Direction

Balloon direction change usually comes with altitude change. Balloon pilots ascend and descend looking for different winds, a procedure most people on the ground do not understand. A good citizen, meaning to be helpful, may call the police or fire department, thinking a balloonist is in trouble; many authorities assume calls are only from upset or threatened people.

Some disadvantages of low flying are: the noise may frighten animals and children; the balloon shadow may spook livestock; people may think the balloonist is in trouble; the balloon may hit tall obstacles; the pilot has less time to correct or adjust for a mechanical problem; the pilot is more likely to be distracted when flying low, when a distraction can be most hazardous.

The particular pleasures of contour flying can best be enjoyed in a balloon. It is wonderful to fly at low level over the trees, drop down behind the orchard; float across the pond just off the water; watch jackrabbits scatter; and see sights close up. No other aircraft can perform low-level contour flying, as safely as a balloon and in no other aircraft is the flight as beautiful.

Contour flying can be great fun, but remember that the balloon should always be flown at legal, safe, and considerate altitudes.


All balloon pilots should have basic knowledge of correct radio procedures as airspace is getting more complicated, and aviation radios are required in many areas. Balloon instructors should be teaching aviation radio procedures to students because it is specifically required during practical tests.

Aviation radios (VHF) may be used for communications between pilot and control tower, pilot and AFSS, air-to-air (pilot-to-pilot), or air-to-ground (pilot-to-crew), and to get information from Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) and Automatic Weather Observing System (AWOS). Only specific frequencies may be used for each type of communication. [Figure 4-2]

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