Tethering vs. Mooring
A tethered balloon is manned and considered an
aircraft. Conduct tether operations in accordance with
operating, certification, and airworthiness regulations
applicable to the aircraft. In order to fly a tethered
balloon, you must be an appropriately certificated
On the other hand, a moored balloon is unmanned
and, as such, is not required to be registered or meet
any airworthiness standards. Conduct moored balloon
operations in accordance with 14 CFR part 101.
EMERGENCY PROCEDURES Emergency, as defined by a dictionary, is a sudden,
unexpected situation or occurrence that requires
immediate action. In aviation, an emergency is a
critical, possibly life, or property, threatening
occurrence that may require outside assistance. To
ATC, emergency means that a pilot in command has a
problem and must operate the aircraft contrary to ATC
instructions. In the case of an emergency, the pilot in
command may deviate from a regulation but only to
the extent required to meet the emergency. When
requested, a written report to the FAA will have to be
made, explaining the nature of the deviation.
Emergencies are often not caused by a single problem,
but are the result of a series of small events that add
up to an emergency. Low fuel is a problem not always
recognized as an emergency. Balloon accident reports
categorize certain accidents as failure to maintain
sufficient altitude, or impact with an obstacle, when
the cause of the accident was poor planning on the
part of a pilot who made a flight with inadequate fuel.
Planning ahead may help reduce stress when an actual
emergency does occur. Every pilot should have a
well-planned low-fuel procedure for the occasion
when a landing cannot be made at the normal time.
Pilots normally land before the fuel gets below 20
percent. You should also have a plan for flying when
you cannot find a landing site and your fuel drops
below 20 percent. With a multi-tank fuel system,
merely deciding in advance which tank will be saved
for last could be a stress reliever when the actual
low-fuel situation occurs. Most pilots elect to save
for last the tank that has (1) the backup system, (2) the
most pressure, and (3) the pilot light supply.
Knowing how to operate the balloon heater system
without a normal, operating pilot light is a standard
emergency operating procedure every pilot should
practice. Every pilot should develop the ability to fly
without a pilot light (backup, emergency, or other),
by igniting the blast flame directly. Experimentation
and practice will shows that the blast flame should
only be ignited when there is a very small flow of
propane coming out of the jet. This gives the fuel a chance to mix with air and become flammable. A fullpressure
blast of liquid propane will not ignite easily
and the cold may extinguish a weak spark. Igniting
the blast flame directly is a valuable skill that should
Every pilot should know the various ways to operate
balloon systems. Even the simplest, single burner
system has alternate ways to use the various burners,
lines, and tank valves. Know your system. If you are
not sure you know your balloon system backwards
and forwards, find a good instructor who flies the
same make of balloon, and get some instruction on
emergency procedures. For your flight reviews, fly
with an instructor who knows the make and model of
the balloon you fly. If you fly with a different pilot
each time, you will get different viewpoints and
techniques. If you have an emergency, fly the balloon
first and then deal with the problem.
Imagine you are flying along and when you reach up
to make a burn, opening of the blast valve makes only
a loud hissing sound. Most pilots when asked, "What
do you do next?" will answer, "Relight the pilot light."
Wrong answer. Since you were trying to make a burn
when you discovered the flameout, the first thing is to
make a burn. Use a striker, and make the burn. Fly the
balloon first, and deal with the problem only if the
balloon is under control. The best response to a
flameout is (1) make the burn you wanted to make
when you discovered the flameout, and (2) check the
pilot light valve and tank vapor valve (if fitted) after,
or while, making the full-length burn that will keep
the balloon flying. The most important thing throughout
this process is to fly the balloon.
Pilot light flameout is no longer a frequent problem
with modern hot air balloon heater systems, but
flameout is an example of a minor problem that can
be a major distraction unless the pilot has been trained
to fly the balloon.
Another basic rule to remember is that for every
propane leak or uncontrolled fire, there is a valve that will turn it off. Some people seem to think a fire
extinguisher is the first method of stopping an
uncontrolled in-flight fire. The first action to control
an in-basket fire is to turn off the valve that controls
the burning or leaking fuel. Leaking tanks are so rare
as to be almost nonexistent; propane leaks usually
come from a loose fitting or an old, cold O-ring.
Closing a valve can control both types of leaks.
The most basic emergency equipment is leather gloves
and long-sleeved shirts. A few years ago a balloon
was totally destroyed, several airplanes damaged, and
a field burned, as a result of a small propane vapor
leak that started a small fire that could have been
extinguished by a pilot wearing gloves. In this case,
the pilot, not wearing any protective clothing, jumped
out of the basket, during inflation, and ran around
looking for a fire extinguisher. Had the pilot been
wearing leather gloves, he could have reached into
the small flame near the tank vapor valve, turned off
the fuel, and prevented the loss of an entire balloon.
Always wear gloves.
Another piece of emergency equipment is an ordinary
welder's torch igniter, known as a striker. Many
modern balloon burners have piezo igniters, but the
piezo can be fragile, and usually ignites only the pilot
light. If the piezo does not work, or the pilot light
system is inoperative, the piezo will be useless. The
welder's striker can be used to ignite the main jet
flame or the pilot light.
The most common emergency that results in fatalities
is balloon contact with powerlines. The most effective
defense to avoid powerline contact is altitude. Most
powerlines are approximately 30 feet AGL.
Powerline towers taller than 120 feet are rare. The
most common cause of fatalities during powerline
contact is the pilot's attempt to climb over the lines at
the last second. The most appropriate action to take,
should powerline contact be unavoidable, is deflation.
It is far better to make powerline contact with the
envelope, than to put the basket, burners, or suspension
into the wires. The best advice is see and avoid.