The assembly, inflation and launch of the balloon is the point where all the safety checks are made and the balloon is prepared for flight. Keep in mind the following:
• Safety First • Always listen to the direction of your pilot • Have fun!
Pilots will typically direct their crew to prepare the balloon by unloading the equipment from truck or trailer, assembling the basket, unloading and connecting the envelope (fabric portion of the balloon) and filling the balloon with cold air. During the assembly portion, the pilot will be conducting safety checks on the fuel system and basket superstructure. Therefore, it is important that crew allow the pilot to handle this portion and only assist when requested.
Once connected and tested, the balloon is ready to fill. Typically, a balloon inflation requires the following:
• 2 crew to hold open the "throat," or bottom of the balloon to allow it to fill with air. • 1-2 crew to hold the "crown line," a rope attached to the top of the balloon. This rope stabilizes the balloon during inflation. • 1 crew to stabilize the inflation fan. This will include shifting the speed and turning the fan off when signaled by the pilot. • Additional crew will typically assist the pilot in inserting the deflation port, spreading the fabric and controlling bystanders.
In addition, during the inflation process, pilots will typically tie their balloon off to their chase vehicle, protecting it from being pulled when the wind is blowing. Each pilot has their own method for managing the tie off. However, please be aware of it, as it can recoil when disconnected, and can trip people walking over it if a gust of wind occurs.
Once the pilot is prepared to stand the balloon upright, they will signal the crew that they are ready. Know the following:
Those holding the throat will need to keep cables and ropes out of the way of the burner. Be sure to stand back when the burners are turned on and stay nearby the basket to put weight on it when it stands up. Those holding the crownline will need to follow the pilots directions to help stabilize the balloon and keep it from swinging backwards when it stands Those attending the fan will need to move it out of the way once the blades have stopped moving Everyone must help hold the balloon down when it is upright
At this point, the pilot will load passengers and prepare them for launch. Once the are ready to go, typically a crewmember will walk a hundred feet out to "clear" the pilot for launch, watching for any overhead traffic.
When the pilot signals to "weigh off" for launch, be certian that you let go and do not hold on to the basket. Holding on or getting stuck on the basket is especially dangerous and can result in serious injury.
Once the balloon is airborne, it is time to pack up the remaining equipment and pursue the balloon!