Ballooning has many surprises among them is where we will land. Today I flew 8 passengers, 4 people on each leg of the flight. It was a calm day for hot air ballooning with little or no breeze aloft. Maybe 3 to 4 mph. At the end of our first hour flight it was time to change passengers and replace the fuel tank with a full load of propane. After a discussion with my ground crew we decided to land in the fairway on the local golf course. This had the residents running out to see a hot air balloon up close in their backyard at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning. Robes, slippers and hair in curlers was the dress code of the morning, with cameras snapping pictures, my passengers loved the attention. My crew chief and I discussed the lack of wind and where we might have to land the next group of passengers and to deflate. We did not expect to encounter what happened next.
The second leg of our flight, with new passengers, we encountered even less wind. We hovered over town for awhile and flew over different portions of the golf course and over neighborhoods. For a moment I thought we would find a landing place in a parking lot, but too many light poles so continued to fly. I tried going up to 2000 ft and the winds were the same aloft as near the ground. The local residents were on the sidewalks traveling, talking and photographing the passengers it was like a block party just after sunrise. If you were piloting the balloon what is your next move?
My ground crew was nearby watching where we were heading and discussing a possible landing site. My crew and I decided since Main Street was not busy at this hour it would safe to land and deflate in middle of a four lane highway in downtown. We had not been on the ground for more than a few minutes and the sheriff came over to see if everything was alright and if we needed any assistance. The local newspaper took pictures and to our surprise we were on the front page of the Sunday edition.
It is always important to consult with the crew chief before picking a landing site. He may know something from his position that the pilot may not know. Pilot experience is invaluable when you are facing unusual conditions or unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Ballooning is always a unique experience. Hot air balloon rides are a wonderful gift for birthdays and anniversaries or for you and a loved one.