A Balloon Pilot’s most frequent question is, “How do you steer a hot-air balloon? And where do we land?”
It can be more challenging than naming a location. The funny answer is “on the ground.” I’ve been known to answer this question well over a thousand times. “I like to consider a hot-air balloon flight the old-fashioned Sunday drive.” It is difficult to know where you are going or how long it will take you to get there. You also need to find out what you might see along the journey. We yelled at Dad from the backseat, “Are you there yet?” We don’t want the balloon to end.
We can use many landing sites if the landowner has permitted us to land. Our Crew is allowed access to these areas to retrieve passengers and equipment. We will steer by choosing a range of altitudes throughout the flight to ensure we land at a safe landing spot.
What makes a suitable landing site?
What is a good landing spot? A good landing spot is easy to access for pilots and safe enough for them to maneuver safely in. It should also be large enough to allow them to land without causing inconvenience to the landowners or posing a risk to their privacy. Whew! This is a lot of information to take into consideration.
There is no mechanism to propel or steer hot air balloons. It moves according to the wind’s speed and direction. Pilots should keep the balloon from going anywhere.
Wind speed and direction can vary at different altitudes. To change the direction of the flight, pilots can place the balloon at various heights during the flight. The Pilot controls the balloon’s temperature and volume, adding heat to increase or maintain level flight speed.
The Pilot can change the volume of the balloon through a large vent at the top of the balloon. This allows him to heat off excess heat, making it heavier for landing.
Before the flight
Before taking off, a Pilot receives information from weather sites about the surface wind direction at different altitudes. This includes information from nearby airports, weather stations reporting online, and forecasts. A Pilot can use small helium balloons to observe the current wind conditions over the area where they are planning to fly. A Pilot must be familiar with the airflow and local conditions to plan a flight route to good landing spots. Pilots use personal observations and an understanding of weather patterns throughout the flight to determine the best possible scenario for winds, altitudes, and terrain to navigate to suitable landing areas.
Pilots will cancel flights when the wind speed and direction are not suitable for a safe flight path to landing sites. Although it is difficult to cancel a flight when passengers are present or the excitement of the flight is high, cancellation is always in the Pilot’s best interests.
Hot air balloons were not intended for specific distances or air travel. The pilot cannot change the wind speed or direction of a hot air balloon except to end the flight and land. If the Pilot cannot control the wind speed or direction, or if the pilot is heading in an unsuitable area for a safe landing, it is best to land where possible and safest. The Pilot may not have permission to access or land on the property. In these cases, it is necessary to contact the owner to obtain permission.
Sometimes, the precautionary landing decision requires you to meet with a new landowner to explain the reason for landing, pack up, and discuss any privacy, animal, or crop concerns. Most landowners are friendly and allow permission to be granted quickly. However, this is only sometimes true. Landowners sometimes feel uneasy about losing privacy, concern for animals, or property obstructions.
The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Administration) has deemed hot air ballooning the safest way to manned travel. This is mainly due to the pilot and crew’s safety decision-making process. Ballooning, a “Fair Weather Sport,” depends on weather conditions to ensure safe and enjoyable flights. Hot air balloon flights are intended to bring out the peaceful and serene feeling that comes with flying man’s oldest form of flight.