Introduction: How to Crew for a Hot Air Balloon
Ballooning is not an individual sport. The ground crew is an essential and integral part, and nothing is more valuable for a good and successful flight than a well trained and well instructed ground crew. This is an shorter version of a chase crew guide that I put together to help train volunteer crew for a balloon event. My sources were an outline by Peggy, who does repairs and crews, and my own 18 years of personal experience.
Ballooning on Antelope Island, Northern Utah
Step 1: Balloon Terminology
There are several different makes of balloons and each brand has a slightly different set up. You should familiarize yourself with the balloon you are working with so you can identify it on a chase. Some of the different kinds are Aerostar, Balloon Works, Cameron, Thunder and Colt, and Lindstrand.
Bag: A heavy canvas like container that holds the envelope, stuff sack
Basket or Gondola: The wicker carriage that holds people, fuel tanks, and other flight equipment.
Burner: Apparatus that changes liquid propane to vapor and supplies ignition for flame
Chase Crew: People who assist the pilot in launch, flight, chase, landing, deflation and pack up
Chase Vehicle: Vehicle used to carry balloon to launch site and to retrieve it at landing site
Cold Inflation: The process of filling the envelope with cold air
Crown: Top of the envelope
Crown Line: Rope attached to the top of the balloon used to control inflation and deflation
Drop Line: A rope connected to the basket that is dropped to a crew person on the ground that can pull the balloon to a suitable place to deflate
Envelope: The fabric part of the balloon
Equator: Middle section of the envelope
Fuel Tanks: Containers where propane is stored for use during inflation and flight
Hot Inflation: Heating the cold air with burners until the envelope will stand vertical
Inflator Fan: A fan used to blow cold air into the envelope
Landowner: A person who owns the property on which you are trespassing. You should get permission whenever possible. Do not drive through crops or try to go through locked gates. Do not cut fences. Stay on the edge of a field to cause the least amount of impact.
Load Tapes: Vertical and horizontal straps that run between fabric panels and that the fabric is attached to
Mouth or Throat: The opening in the bottom of the envelope
Red Line or Vent Line: Rope attached to the top cap or valve. Used to let out hot air during landing and deflation
Radio: Used to communicate instructions from pilot to crew
Skirt: Fabric connected to the throat to aid with cold inflation. Some balloons have a partial skirt called a scoop
Suspension Lines: Cables or ropes that connect the envelope to the basket
Tie Off: The rope that anchors the basket to the chase vehicle to keep the balloon from dragging on a windy inflation
Top Cap or Valve: A parachute in the top of the balloon used to let out hot air to maneuver to different levels and to deflate the balloon
Weigh Off: Lightly holding on to basket at launch to control direction away from objects
Eden balloon festival (northern Utah)
Step 2: Qualities a Crew Should Have
- Love to fly
- Common Sense
- Positive Attitude
- Willing to follow instructions
- Cleanliness, both in hygiene and language
- Good Driving Skills
- Driver's License
- Ability to back up a trailer
Step 3: Things Crew Members Need to Know About Proper Dress
- Layer clothing according to weather
- Wear long pants for sage hopping and cactus dodging
- Wear sturdy shoes with good tread or warm winter boots (No heels or sandals)
- Wear leather gloves for handling ropes
- No long scarves, coat strings, fanny pack straps, loose long hair, etc. These items can become caught in the inflator fan.
-No excessive jewelry or pins which can snag balloon fabric
Step 4: Selection of Launch Site
- Take into consideration the different problems a launch spot can have for crew, including:
-Deep snow (you can't move)
-Tall weeds and grass (you get entangled)
-Ice (slick footing)
-Rough ground (rocks, holes, debris)
-Cow pastures (cow patties)
- Also take into consideration space for the crown line and try to avoid obstacles such as:
-Ditches, fences, snow banks, buildings, etc.
-If it is necessary to use a short crown line, only an experienced crew person should do so.
Snow Canyon Utah
Step 5: Things Crew Should Know Before Take Off
- Where the inflator fan is placed in the chase vehicle after launch
- How the inflator fan is tied down (a loose inflator fan gets ugly!!)
- Where the envelope bag and other equipment is stored for the chase
- Where emergency numbers are located in the chase vehicle, including:
-A pre-arranged number to call in case the balloon is lost (pilot's cell phone)
-911- in case of an accident
- Leave keys in vehicle, have an extra key outside the vehicle
- How to drive chase vehicle
-Know how to back up a trailer, if necessary
- If you are a fan tender, make sure you know where the off switch is
- When preparing for cold inflation (using inflator fan to fill balloon with cold air):
-Do not step on fabric
-Be attentive to pilot instructions for various tasks
Step 6: The Inflation
- Proper Crown Line Procedure
"The crown line is the most important interaction between the pilot and
- The purpose of the crown line person is to stabilize the balloon and keep it from oscillating from side to side, not to hold it down.
- The crown line person needs to understand the pilots hand signals for direction and to stabilize oscillation.
- Do not wrap any ropes, cables, or cords around your hand or any other part of your body
- Hold crown line taut allowing the envelope to rise slowly as pilot hot inflates
- Do not allow the envelope to go past vertical
- If the valve velcro comes loose, let the envelope up faster to about 2/3 of the way up or until the inside pressure reseats the top. Then slow down until the envelope is vertical.
- A safe short line procedure is:
- Pile extra rope behind you so you won't step into it as it uncoils
- Put rope around your backside and do not cross in front of the body
- Do not wrap around hands, feet, or any other part of the body
- DO NOT LET GO OF THE ROPE!
- Using the suspension lines hold the mouth of the balloon open so that air from the inflator fan can fill the envelope
- When the pilot begins to heat the air, look away from the flame and don't let go until the balloon rises
The Inflator Fan
ÃÂÃÂ "The inflator fan is the most dangerous piece of equipment that is
- Remove loose articles of clothing and dangling jewelry
-Know where the off switch is
- Hold fan to prevent it from vibrating out of position
- If you are instructed to move the fan, turn it off. NEVER MOVE THE FAN WHILE THE BLADE IS SPINNING!
- When you are signaled by the pilot, turn off the fan.
Step 7: Pre-launch Procedure
- After hot inflation, crown line person will secure crown line handle to the basket
- Move the inflator fan back out of the way (about 10 feet or near chase vehicle)
- Complete a radio check
- Put weight on the basket by holding down on the sides of the basket until the pilot instructs you to let go or "Âweight off"
Step 8: Things for the Crew to Do After Launch
- Pack up and secure equipment
- Tie down inflator fan
- Envelope bag and all other covers and tie off equipment should be properly stored
- Check all tie down, tailgates, trailer hitch, and make sure the keys are in vehicle
Step 9: The Chase
- Keep a visual or radio contact with the balloon
- Use radio courtesy
- Communicate clearly
- Identify yourself if there are others on your channel
- Use appropriate language, do not criticize other crew members on the radio
- Use short, clear, accurate instructions
- Listen carefully, comprehend and/or ask questions
- Keep radio use to a minimum, especially if there are others on the channel
- Always give feedback over the radio to let the pilot know that you heard and understand his or her instructions (ex. "Âok" or "Roger"
- Drive with respect for others
- Obey all traffic laws
- Don't try to watch the balloon and drive at the same time, pull over to watch the balloon
- You can hang out in parking lots or wide spots along the road while waiting, but do not impede traffic.
- Leave yourself turning options
- Try to stay ahead of the balloon, but not too far, in case it changes direction
- Follow pilot instructions to get you to the landing area
Step 10: Land Owner Courtesy
You are trespassing!
- The crew is usually the first one in contact with the land owner. It is extremely important to make sure you are:
- Courteous (Never argue or threaten)
- Respectful to property, ask permission if at all possible
- Not Intrusive (Never enter into a field on a crop, cut fences, or leave gates open. Be aware of livestock. Drive only one existing roads if at all possible
- If things get out of line or out of control with the land owner:
- Do not argue
- Contact the pilot
- Police may have to be called to mediate
Step 11: The Landing
- If possible, be at the landing site before the balloon lands
- Don't park chase vehicle in the path of an incoming balloon
- You can park by obstacles, including power poles, fences, trees, building, etc
- Approach the basket from the sides or behind
- Never stand in front (downwind) of moving balloon basket while the balloon is landing or while walking the balloon
- On a "high wind" landing stay out of the way until the balloon is down
- On a regular landing, crew can assist by catching the basket from behind, and slowing the forward motion by putting weight on at the moment of touch down. Lift feet off the ground to prevent injury from being dragged off the basket or the basket landing on your feet. If the basket bounces more than a few inches off the ground, LET GO OF THE BASKET!
- Do not put feet on handles of step holes to hold the basket down
Step 12: Deflation and Pack-Up
- The crown line person will pull down wind on the pilot's instruction, pulling the envelope into a horizontal position
- Pull as hard as you can and don't let go!
- Other crew members will squeeze the air out of the envelope, or "milk" the balloon
- Starting at the skirt, gather the fabric in your arms squeezing air out. Work your way towards the top of the balloon until it is flat. (make sure there is nothing sharp on your clothing or in your pockets that can snag the fabric.)
- Pack envelope in bag
- Load equipment into the chase vehicle and replace proper tie downs
- Never drag the envelope bag on black top or cement
- After it is tied shut, it is ok to roll the bag
Step 13: Emergency Procedures
- Power Line Contact
- DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING ! - electricity may be traveling through the balloon and will travel through you to ground
- Call the power company and give them the number of the nearest pole (all poles have an ID number on them)
- Keep others away
- Injuries During Landing
- Be prepared for cuts, burns, bruises, or broken bones
- Call 911 if injury is serious
- Do first aid to make sure the injured person is breathing
- Don't move the injured person if there is a possibility of neck or back injury
- In case of burns, cool the burned skin by pouring cold water on it. Remove jewelry and clothing from near the burned area. Cover the burned area with something clean and dry. Seek medical attention immediately.
- In case of a broken bone, control bleeding if present. If the bone is sticking out, cover it with something clean. If you can not get immediate medical attention, splint the bone until you can get to a hospital.
- Lost Balloon (No radio contact)
- Call the pre-arranged cell phone number to contact the pilot and get direction to the location of the balloon.
- If you can not reach the pilot, contact race officials.
- Emergency Equipment
- Most pilots have a first aid kit in the chase vehicle
- There is a fire extinguisher in the basket of each balloon. Some pilots also keep one in the chase vehicle.
Step 14: Soft Landings!
This is only a guideline so you will know what to expect on your ballooning experience. Each pilot has a slightly different way of doing things. Listen carefully to directions. The pilot will assign jobs and explain in detail. If you don't understand something, ask questions until it is clear.