Other Balloons

Watch what other hot air balloons are doing, both before launch and while in the air. They make excellent pibals.

Winds Aloft Forecasts

Winds aloft forecasts are based on information gathered from weather balloons launched twice daily from widely scattered locations around the United States. This information is then transmitted to a central computer for processing into three different forecast periods for use during specific times.

As a result, when you call a Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) for winds aloft, the forecast you receive will be based on information that may be several hours old. Also, you should be aware that no winds are forecast within 1,500 feet of station elevation. If the field elevation is 1,400 feet, the first level of winds forecast will be at 3,000 feet (1,600 feet AGL). If the field elevation is 4,600 feet, the first level of winds forecast will be at 9,000 feet (4,400 feet AGL).

If you are launching from a site other than near specific sites used in the forecasts, you may get an extrapolation of winds from several sites. Remember that the AFSS briefer is probably located at a site other than where the winds aloft are gathered. When calling the AFSS for the winds aloft for a launch, the briefer may give you an extrapolation of winds recorded at sites 50 to 100 miles away from your launch site. Also, the briefer may not tell you that the winds were an extrapolation. You should ask for the closest reporting sites and then make the extrapolation yourself.

In summary, remember winds aloft is a forecast, made by a machine, several hours old, and delivered to you by a person who may not be familiar enough with the geography of the area to select correct weatherreporting points for your use.
Winds aloft are best used only as raw data. You should get the winds aloft, record the forecast, compare it to the actual winds, and use the winds aloft forecast as a guide to make your own forecast.

Even if you have no aids to assist you, remember that winds can flow in different directions at different altitudes. As you ascend, pay attention to wind direction and how it changes. If you want to go in a certain direction, and a wind is available to take you there, fly at the altitude where that wind exists. Perhaps you cannot go directly to your selected location, but can reach it by flying in a zigzag pattern using different altitude winds alternately.


When in flight, winds below can be observed in many ways. Observe smoke, trees, dust, flags, and especially ponds and lakes to see what the wind is doing on the ground. To make certain what is going on between your balloon and the ground, watch other balloons, if there are any.

Another means of checking winds below is to drop a very light object and watch it descend to the ground. However, exercise caution with this method. 14 CFR part 91 allows things to be dropped from the air that will not harm anything below. 14 CFR section 91.15: Dropping Objects, states "No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property."

Some items that you may drop without creating a hazard are small, air-filled toy balloons, small balls made of a single piece of tissue, or a small glob of shaving cream from an aerosol can. A facial tissue, about 8" x 8", rolled into a sphere about the size of a ping-pong ball works well. These balls will fall at about 350 FPM, and can be seen for several hundred feet, and are convenient to carry. Counting as the tissue

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