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 pilot.

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 be practiced.

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.

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