USE OF INSTRUMENTS
Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations
(14 CFR) part 31 and the balloon manufacturers'
equipment lists specify certain instruments in the
balloon. [Refer to appendix C] However, most pilots
find they use instruments less and less as they gain
experience and familiarity with the balloon.
For instance, while the VSI and the altimeter can be
used to execute a smooth descent and transition to
level flight, the experienced pilot will refer only
occasionally to the instruments during maneuvers. This
is especially so in maneuvers involving descents where
they rely more on sight pictures and visual references.
Some beginning pilots become fixated on the
instruments and forget to scan outside for obstacles.
If a pilot spends too much time looking at the flight
instruments, the instructor may cover the instrument
pack with a spare glove or a hand to try to break the
formation of a bad habit. Instruments are required
and useful, but should not distract you from searching
for obstacles. Always practice see and avoid.
ASCENTS AND DESCENTS
The temperature of the air inside the envelope controls
balloon altitude. A balloon that is neither ascending
nor descending is in equilibrium. To make the balloon
ascend, increase the temperature of the air inside the
envelope. If the temperature is increased just a little,
the balloon seeks an altitude only a little higher and/or
climb at a very slow rate. If the temperature is increased
a lot, the balloon seeks a much higher altitude and/or
climbs faster. If the balloon is allowed to cool, or hot
air is vented, the balloon descends.
Using evenly-spaced, identical standard burns to fly
level, a pilot needs to only make two burns in a row
to have added excess heat to make the balloon climb.
For instance, if you can fly level with a standard burn
every 60 seconds, and then make two burns instead
of one, the balloon will have an extra burn and will
climb. How fast the balloon will climb depends on
how much extra heat you add. Under average
conditions, if you make the standard burn to hold the balloon at level flight and immediately (not waiting the
60 seconds) you make a second burn, the average
balloon will start a slow climb. Three burns in a row
will result in a faster climb.
To avoid subjecting the burners and the envelope to
the shock of a too-long burn, make two burns with a
pause between burns. If a rapid ascent is desired,
make three or maybe even four burns in a row, but
always with a 5-second pause between burns to allow
the heater to cool. The exception to this procedure is
when using a double burner; in this case, alternate
burners and wait only about 1 second between burns.
Once the desired climb rate is established, go back
to the level flight routine to hold the balloon at that
rate. The higher the altitude, or the faster the rate-ofclimb,
the shorter the interval between burns. In an
average size balloon at 5,000 feet, the pilot may be
required to make a standard burn every 15 to 20
seconds to keep the balloon climbing at 500 FPM.
At sea level, the same rate may require burning only
every 30 to 40 seconds. Burn rates cannot be
predicted in advance, but practice will get you in the
ballpark to begin with, and experimentation will find
the correct burn rate for a particular day's ambient
temperature, altitude, and balloon weight.
Another skill to develop in ascents is knowing when
to quit burning so the balloon will slow and stop at the
chosen altitude. The transition from a climbing mode
to level flight involves estimating the momentum and
coasting up to the desired or assigned altitude.
An ascent of 200 to 300 FPM is slow enough to
detect wind changes at different altitudes, which is
helpful in maneuvering. Above 500 FPM, it is possible
to fly right through small, narrow wind bands, or a
wind that its direction change is very small, without
noticing. It is a good idea to launch and climb at a
slow speed (100 to 200 FPM) to make an early
decision which direction to fly.
If you practice and remember the routine, your flying
skills will get better and better; it will be easier and
easier to fly, and you will have more fun.