Back in the Basket
Back in the Basket
In keeping with our mission of education and safety, the AAAA Education Committee is presenting this series of tips, reminders, and other tidbits to help you get ready to get Back in the Basket after this extended period of no flying. We understand you may have your own tried and true methods and we're not trying to convert anyone to any particular method or process. We present these topics as food for thought. We hope they help you be safe when you return to the sky. And if you have any suggestions to add to our tips, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Back in the Basket Checklist
Hopefully, you’ve been reading and thinking about all the different items we’ve posted here about getting Back in the Basket. There’s a lot to think about and remember. So here’s a checklist, expanded beyond what most of us have or use when we plan a flight. It’s based on a number of people’s feedback and experience in getting back in the air. We hope it’s useful. Download here.
Safety Tip – Personal Checklists I’M Safe, What’s Yours
If you have been away from balloon flying and the fine details of preparing to fly your equipment for a while, maybe it is time to bring out your checklist that you and your instructor fine-tuned a long time ago.
Did you take your equipment out and clean/hydrate your basket? Is everything back in the basket where you think it is? Does the fan start? Got fuel in your tanks? Are your radios charged? Is the fire extinguisher charged? All instruments are in working conditions? Are the required equipment and paperwork on board.
And then there is you. You may have your own method of analyzing yourself to make sure all is well if not the acronym “I’m Safe” is very useful.
- Illness – Do I have any symptoms?
- Medication – Have I been taking prescriptions or over the counter drugs?
- Stress – Am I under psychological pressure from work, financial matters, health problems or family discord?
- Alcohol – Have I been drinking within 8 hours? Within 24? How much?
- Fatigue – Am I tired and not adequately rested?
- Emotion – Am I angry, depressed, excited, or anxious?
Perhaps your crew needs a refresher as well.
Finally, in your excitement did you make sure you are hydrated and have enough body fuel (food) to keep you mentally alert for the next few hours? If not, as your mother would say “EAT”.
Fly Safe friends.
Hot and High Flying
Summer is upon us and it is a good time to review how our balloon system performance changes with higher temperatures (hot days) and especially at higher altitudes. On hot days our system will perform as if it is at a higher altitude reducing the amount of useful load we can carry and increasing the amount of fuel burn. So, it is especially important to know the ambient temperature and check your Flight Manual’s performance charts as part of your pre-flight planning.
As the ambient temperature increases the air expands, therefore the air is less dense, which mimics the density of the air at a higher altitude. This means that your balloon system will perform as if it is at a higher altitude than it actually is. This higher altitude is referred to as density altitude and effectively reduces the amount of lift your system will generate.
For example, if you usually launch at 5000’MSL, on a standard temperature day (42F) you might be able to lift a maximum gross weight of 1500 lbs, but if the temperature is 20F hotter you may only be able to lift 1300 lbs. This would be a 200 lb reduction in your useful load that day or said another way, you can’t carry that extra passenger!
So, throughout these hotter days, please make sure you:
- Check your Flight Manual’s performance tables for the reduction in the maximum allowable gross weight for the day’s temperature
- Calculate the useful load you can carry that day – people, cargo and fuel – your AAAA Performance Calculator is useful for this
- Expect slower system response times and higher fuel burn (i.e. shorter flights)
Have fun and fly safe!
Crewing Safely – from someone who is Immunosuppressed.
Every balloon crew has its own routines and procedures and some of them will probably change as we get back in the air. For me, an immunosuppressed person, I plan to make some personal changes until more is known about the Covid-19 virus and at the very least an effective treatment plan is in place.
These are the steps I will be taking to hopefully stay as safe as possible. I will be wearing a mask. This is more to keep anyone else from getting sick should I be asymptomatic. I value my ballooning friends too much to risk endangering anyone’s health. While uncomfortable in the summer, it should be pretty dandy in the winter for keeping my nose warm. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
Gloves? Absolutely but they come with the sport, so that’s not a problem. I will also be carrying hand sanitizer to clean my hands when things need to be done without gloves.
Social distancing will be something I will be keeping careful track of and doing as much as reasonably possible during inflation and pack up.
I will be chasing in my own vehicle when the weather is cold or if there is too much crew, and I can’t ride in the bed of a pickup truck.
Tailgating will be case by case. If we are going to breakfast, I will decide if I want to go depending on where we are going. Weck’s? Always too crowded so I’d probably pass. Taco Cabana? Usually not terribly crowded so I might join in. Outdoor tailgate? I will probably be bringing my own treats for a while.
Will I fly with my pilot? That will also be a case by case thing depending on how many will be in the basket, how research on the virus is going, etc.
Again, these are my personal choices and decisions; an immunosuppressed person. Yours may be different.
Please just take a moment and think about what is right for you as we all return to the sport we enjoy!
From the BFA
We all know that current means 3 landings in the past 90 days. We also all know that 3 landings do not truly give you a tune-up to actually be back at the top of your game. Give yourself a gift of a flight or two or three to get back in the saddle. Take time to review the following:
- Look your paperwork over…see when your flight review is due, your currency, your balloon annual, your insurance…
- Check your equipment over and make sure everything is ready to go and in good condition including your fan, instruments, launch harness, radios, trailer.
- Review your emergency procedures, practice a burner relight, practice what to do in the event of a fuel leak, how to avoid powerlines.
- Crews are always rusty on that first time out in a while. Give them a chance to dust off the cobwebs.
- Review your various sources for obtaining weather information. Make sure the links and numbers all still work.
- Do your first flight with another pilot and give each other the chance to get comfortable on the burner. Get back to navigating, do some steep descents, practice your scan, get the feel back for the balloon.
- Masks for everyone as well as cleaning/sanitizing your equipment. Making hand sanitizer readily available to everyone and the adjustments you would make for post-flight refreshments.
And if after doing that tune-up flight, you still don’t feel comfortable yet, give yourself the gift of another one…repeat as necessary. You do this for yourself but more importantly, for your passengers….the people I refer to as the unsuspecting public….because they expect you to be at the top of your game.
So, whenever it is the right time for you to get back in the air, start now getting ready.
You cleaned in your down-time but what about disinfecting?
Most everyone has figured out the use of masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes. If you run out of wipes you can put disinfectant in a plastic bag with rags or paper towels, shake it up and you have wipes. These techniques are good for your vehicle, trailer, and maybe even your burners and tanks but the rest of your balloon is different.
If you don’t want to wait a week in between flights you may want to disinfect your balloon equipment, assuming this is still going to be the CDC guidelines. Remember most disinfectants don’t work unless the surface is clean, so you’ll need to wipe everything down first. For the wicker, fabric, and leather bolster/uprights you can use a UV disinfecting wand or just leave your system out in the sun. It’s slow going but doesn’t hurt anything (and you don’t have to clean everything first). You can also use ½ white vinegar & ½ water in a spray bottle. If you don’t want to spray vinegar on your bolster, etc. you can also cover it so it is easier to clean. Several pilots have wrapped their bolsters and uprights with Carpet Shield Sticky Film, however, this material is flammable and very sticky, meaning it might be difficult to remove if you keep it on too long. (You can go to Facebook “Balloon (mostly uncensored) Chats” May 11 for information.)
Everything these days takes longer and it looks like preparation for flying will too…but it is worth it!
Share what has worked for you!
You Can Practice!
You probably did this before. Remember when you were learning to fly and you set your basket up and practiced re-lighting your pilot light? Do you remember your stuck blast valve procedure, or how to get that fire out? What other emergency procedures did your instructor run you through?
The emergency procedures for your system are laid out in the Manufacturer’s Operating Limitations and Flight Manual. When was the last time you looked at that list? When was the last time you practiced? Go ahead, drag out your basket that you have been inspecting and detailing. You’re proud of your work.
With appropriate social distancing consideration and a little help, you should be able to set your basket, burner, and fuel system. Then, hop in and practice. You might even want to practice your tie-off. Should you open the tank valves and use up some fuel? That’s up to you, but the better the practice, the better the result.
If you choose to light things up, naturally make sure you’re well clear of overhead and downwind obstacles and have all the appropriate safety equipment. Your helpful crew member can help maintain social distance with the curious on-lookers you’re sure to draw. It’s no substitute for the real thing, but a little simulation and thought will help your muscle memory and skill.
See you out there, soon!
Am I Current? Am I Proficient?
Unless you were one of the lucky ones to have flown in early March before we all started staying home, you may not be current, and then there is the thought of being proficient. Count back 90 days from the day you want to fly and see if you have logged three takeoffs and landings in your logbook.
§61.57 of the 14 CFRs states that no person may act as a pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers …unless that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days. So, if you are not current, you will need to fly solo and do those three takeoffs and landings prior to flying any passengers, if you think you want to share your basket with someone afterward. Some pilots count three bounces as complying with this requirement. A more considered approach is to complete 3 controlled take-offs to level flight and 3 controlled approach and landings.
§61.56 states that no person can act as pilot in command of an aircraft unless a flight review in the 24 months before the month in which that person acts as pilot in command has occurred and has been endorsed in the person’s logbook. The FAA did waive this for pilots flying essential missions, and it required the pilots to jump through other hoops. That waiver does NOT apply to us flying hot air balloons. So, if your 2 years ended during this shutdown, then it is time to find a current commercial pilot and spend an hour flying (maybe getting those 3 takeoffs and landings) and an hour on the ground.
Currency is not proficiency, however. You’ve done your 3 take-offs and landings, but are you comfortable as PIC? If the answer is ‘kind of’, a suggestion is to go far out from populated areas where there are open areas to refamiliarize yourself with your balloon (how does this work, how much heat do I need, etc.) and to figure out how you will do things to keep yourself and your crew safe when flying.
We all want to be flying again! Please be certain you are complying and proficient before flying!
Board Liaison: Peg Bilson email@example.com