Connect your adapter to the tank(s) to be filled, and connect the filler hose to the adapter. Check for leaks by opening a tank valve l/4-turn. Better to find the leak when it is small than after the main supply valve is open and/or the fuel pump is on.

If there are no leaks, open the tank valve full, then back 1/4-turn. Open the liquid level indicator valve (also called the 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, or spit valve) 1/4-turn. There is no need to open the liquid level indicator valve any more than 1/4-turn if a pump is being used; it is only an indicator and the less it is opened, the easier and faster it will be to close. If fuel is going to be transferred by pressure differential (often called decanting), you should open the 10 percent valve to its full flow (about one complete turn) because you are trying to lower the pressure in the receiving tank so the propane will flow from high pressure (the filling tank) to low pressure (the receiving tank). Now the filler hose valve may be opened and the fuel pump turned on.

There are only two ways to determine legally when a propane tank is full, (1) from the liquid level indicator valve spitting, or (2) from the weight of the fuel. Even if the tank has a full-scale fuel gauge (0-100 percent), it is not a legal measure.

As soon as the indicator valve spits, close the supply valve and shut off the pump. Close the tank valve and then close the indicator valve. There is a common tendency to shut off the indicator valve first, but to avoid overfilling the tank, the supply valve should be closed first.

Be careful draining the hoses, even if the system has a bleed valve, as the propane drained from the filler hose is cold and may burn bare skin.

Disconnect all filler hoses, reconnect the balloon fuel lines, and check for leaks. Do not leave your hoses open for nesting insects or dirt, and do not wait until later to discover a leak. Put your system back together and check it now.

Never overfill propane tanks. Propane expands with heat and adequate head space must be allowed in the tank. When the spit valve spits, shut off the fuel supply.

Fueling Equipment

The hose coming off most propane suppliers' storage tanks does not fit into most balloon tank's liquid valve; therefore, an adapter is necessary. It is good practice to carry and use your own adapter, as most propane company adapters are worn and dirty and may damage your fuel system.

Prolonging Hose Life

Some people fuel through the balloon's fuel lines because it takes less time. This is not a good idea. Fittings from fuel lines to the burners are not designed to be used over and over. Fittings become rusted because the cadmium plating is worn off by wrenches. Fittings, possibly hoses, may then have to be replaced, depending upon their serviceability. If you insist on fueling through the lines, you should use two wrenches so you do not disturb the burner fitting.

Another reason to have special fueling hose adapters, and not to use the balloon fuel system, is that foreign matter (dirt, rust, pieces of rubber, etc.) may become lodged in your fuel hose. It is much better, and safer, if such matter lodges in an adapter, or falls to the bottom of the tank.

Hoses wear out by rubbing against things. When you are fueling, make sure the fuel hoses are not abraded in the process. During preventive maintenance, check the position and security of hoses.

Propane is an appropriate and safe fuel for hot air balloons, providing proper handling techniques and safety precautions are followed.

Fuel Management

Fuel systems are not standardized among manufacturers. Certificated balloons vary from a simple one-burner/one-tank system to complex systems with three burners and eight tanks. Some tanks are connected individually, some in series. Some systems have more tanks than hoses requiring the pilot to disconnect and connect hoses in flight. It is very easy to figure out a fuel management program for a one-burner, one-tank balloon, but what is the best fuel management system for a more complex system?

Most balloon fuel tank gauges are inaccurate. Vertical tanks do not have room for the fuel gauge float arm to read on a full-scale dial, and usually have dials that read from 5 to 35 percent. Horizontal tanks allow adequate room for the float arm and usually read from 0 to 100 percent. Tank gauge floats often stick and do not move.

Through experience and good record keeping, a pilot can develop the expertise to know approximately how much fuel is required per hour. A wristwatch can be a very dependable fuel gauge.

The best way to learn the fuel consumption of a balloon is to check the time required to use the fuel from one tank. To find out, you can make a flight, running on one tank exclusively, timing how long it takes to exhaust the fuel in that tank. (This should be done only to establish your benchmark time. In practice, a tank should never be emptied; 20 to 30 percent should be saved as a reserve.)

If you have two identical tanks, you will establish how long it takes to use half your fuel. To establish actual time you could fly on a tank, allowing the amount of reserve you prefer, deduct 20 to 30 percent from the time expended to exhaust the tank.

A simple time management plan follows. If you have a two-tank system and like to land with 20 percent reserve, you would inflate the balloon on one tank, fly on that tank until the gauge reads 20 percent, note the time it took to use the first tank, switch to the next tank and be on the ground either when the second tank gauge reads 20 percent or when the allotted time is expended.

Once you have established your benchmark times, you may wish to consider other fuel management plans. Some pilots, with two-burner, two-tank systems, like to switch back and forth between burners, making constant affirmation that both systems are working. You still land at either 20 percent or within your allotted time.

An emergency plan for low fuel with a two-tank system, if a landing site is not found before both tanks are at 20 percent, would be to continue to fly on the last 20 percent of one tank and save the second tank for the actual landing. As the last quarts of propane in a tank are used, the tank pressure decreases. Try to save some normally pressurized fuel for the landing.

Which tank should be saved for the landing? This decision should be made before the flight. Part of your low-fuel plan should take into consideration any differences between tanks. If only one of your tanks supplies fuel to the pilot light and backup system, use that tank last.

The important consideration for pilots to remember is to pay attention, keep records, and always have a plan.

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