Balloon FAQ's

BIBF 2014 from the skies

Ever wondered why a Hot Air Balloon can't fly during the day? Or why some are larger than others? Here's all the answers...

What should we wear on a balloon flight ?

The answer depends on where you are flying or why.  For a normal balloon flight, you need to remember that this is a sport and takes place in the countryside, or at least the landing normally does, and it can sometimes be a bit bumpy on landing or you may need to walk across a field, so it is better to wear walking boots or stout shoes or trainers.  Also it is wise to wear trousers not shorts.

There is a belief that it will be cold up there, well if you are in the Alps, or we intend to do an altitude flight then that is true but on a normal flight, you just need ordinary clothes though you may need to take a fleece or sweater for the period prior to take off or after landing.  It is better to wear natural material such as cottons rather than synthetic, (for safety reasons), especially if you want to get involved in the preparation and packing away of the balloon.

The burners are a wonderful form of heating and do radiate a lot of, sometimes welcomed heat, into the basket.

How long does a balloon flight last ?

This depends on the occasion, event and location, but generally they last for about 1 hour, with the whole experience of setting the balloon up, flying and landing and then returning to the launch site by the retrieve vehicle taking about 4 hours.  Sometimes we just do a hop, out of an arena and into the first available landing opportunity, when we are attending an event and we just need to put on a show in front of the public and then get back to tether, take part in a NightGlow or even fly again.  We also make a decision on a length of flight based on safety and if a perfect opportunity to land appears and we are heading towards a more difficult area we will take the opportunity to land, rather than court with a problem later.

Why do balloon flights take place early in the morning or in the evening?

This is due to the winds during the day, which are often caused by Thermal heating, something that is great for flying gliders but not for hot air balloons, during the late afternoon the ground temperature cools and this causes the winds to fall lighter.  Overnight as the temperature drops further the winds fall calm and then are perfect for morning flights, but as the sun starts rising it heats the air and the ground allowing the winds to pick up, so we fly and land before this happens.

In the winter months it is possible to fly at any time.

Can the balloons fly in the rain?

It is not best to fly balloons in the rain, especially heavy rain but if it does start to rain when we are flying it is not the end of the world, the weather that most affects balloons is the wind and sometimes a rain storm does bring gusty conditions with it, so this is then problematic.

Why are some balloons larger than others?

This is due to their planned use and what their payload will be. If they are wanted to fly large passenger ride baskets, some in our area carry 16 passengers, then the balloon envelope needs to be much larger to provide the lift.  If the balloon is for advertising or for sport use, then it can be smaller and carry up to four people.  You can purchase balloons from a one person to fly right through to some very large baskets which can carry up to 40 people.

Are Special Shape balloons harder to fly than normal conventional shapes?

Yes they can be, it depends on the shape a balloon like Pipy is more difficult due to his height and his legs, which always seem to get in the way when you are trying to land.  If the balloon is tall it can also be affected by different winds at the top compared to down at the basket level.  The shape balloons need to be inflated with a little more care and you need to choose your landing field more carefully.  Some shape balloons like cans and square shapes are much easier to fly but not as easy as a conventional shape balloon.

What license do you need to fly a balloon?

To be a pilot you need to obtain a Balloon Private pilots license, this is very similar to a fixed wing license but the exams we sit are aimed towards balloons.  There are five exams to sit and you need approx’ 25 hours of flying experience and training with other pilots.  You then take a flight with an examiner and complete a solo flight.  The pilots who fly the large passenger balloons or other commercial balloons hold a Commercial Pilots license.

Will the balloons land back at Ashton Court?

Balloons are completely at the mercy of the wind, so if we have a Westerly wind we will travel to the East.  In certain light and variable wind conditions it can be possible to just fly around the Ashton Court area but normally we would travel out over the City and then choose a suitable landing spot according to certain criteria.  We do use the winds at different heights to give us a little steerage.

The criteria we use for selecting a landing site is that it should be free from livestock, not crop and with good access.  A pilot will select a suitable field as he or she is flying and ensure it does not have electric wires across it before making their approach.

What fuel does the balloon use?

The fuel we use is propane and our burners are able to burn the vapour or liquid propane.  The main burners are vapour but when we are flying near livestock or doing the NightGlow we use the liquid burners.

How do you get the balloon back?

When we fly we have a retrieve vehicle following us who we are in radio contact with.  The retrieve vehicle pulls a trailer behind it and once we have landed and have the permission of the Landowner to retrive the balloon, we pack the balloon and basket into the trailer and return back to Ashton Court, usually via a café for breakfast in the mornings or the local pub in the evenings.

Do balloons have to file a flight plan or contact Air Traffic Control?

The answer to this is No and Yes.
We don’t file a flight plan as apart from our take off position we don’t know where we will land until we are airborne and select a landing spot.

If we are flying in Controlled Airspace as we are in the Bristol / Bath area we do need to contact air traffic control via air band radio and we are in their control regarding height and whether they provide permission for us to enter their airspace.

What makes the balloon go up and down?

A balloon pilot has total control over height and we can use the burners for us to gain height and by burning less we will start to descend, our burners then become our accelerator to slow down our rate of descent.  We are also able to dump hot air out of the balloon via a parachute situated at the top of the balloon, this will also start us descending and helps us when landing to deflate the balloon quickly.

Is balloon flying safe?

Ballooning is known as the safest form of aviation, of course as with all flying there is a risk and there can be accidents but injuries and fatalities are very rare.

What happens if the balloon gets damaged?

Balloons do sometimes get damaged, when they might make contact with trees, fences or other obstacles, they can be repaired quite easily by having panels sewn up or replaced or by placing little sticky patches over small holes.


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