if you look into a balloon basket you will notice something different from most any other form of transportation. They are missing a steering wheel.
Before any flight takes off you will usually see a simple helium balloon being released. Yes, it's just a regular balloon you may have at a kid's birthday party. If you take a look at the pilots and crew during this time, you will see them focus on it intently, some watching the direction and speed with their naked eyes, others taking measurements. They learn quite a few things from this exercise. They learn where their balloon is going to head as they launch it. They also notice where the wind changes direction at different altitudes and the speed at which it travels there. Even during that time they are thinking about where they are heading and where they may end up. Pilots steer by following the wind, and changing their altitude to change their direction.
Where they are headed is important, and sometimes even before the flight those familiar with the area are plotting where they may land. But even with the best plan, there is a strong element of chance. Mother Nature is ultimately in control. Winds direction can change quickly and a good pilot pays attention. From the time they begin a flight, they are thinking about their landing. It is the inevitable conclusion of every flight and the place they choose is important.
There are some factors that they especially look for. Many people think balloons only land at airports. The truth is an airport landing seldom happens. At Carolina BalloonFest, with the crowds and activities on the ground at the airport, you will only rarely see this occur. They usually land where they see a spot that fits their needs.
The pilot is looking for a place where they have the space to not only land, but space to take down the hot air balloon. Power lines are the enemy, so the pilots (and their chase crew and usually those flying with them) are always paying attention to where they may be. They need to make sure they can fly over them and still land and pack up the balloon safely. Large fields are ideal, but the pilot looks for those that are not planted so they don't disturb any crops. They also avoid livestock, which may be spooked by the noise and can get in the way of the balloon packup. Fields free of obstacles and debris are also preferable. The fabric in the envelope (the "balloon part") is tough but also can be fragile. They want to avoid holes and tears. They're also looking for access for their crew and chase vehicle....to be able to get to the balloon easily makes the retrieval process much easier.
But pilots don't need to land in a field. They may be able to land in your yard, on the road, in a parking lot, or on your cul de sac. They just need a little space and the amount they need depends on the size of the balloon and the preference of the pilot.
Because we have so many pilots in the Statesville area who have shown themselves to be respectful of our land and landowners, we have a lot of friendly and welcoming landowners. Many of our pilots have been coming to the area for years and they are usually greeted by friendly faces and hospitable hosts.
Many landowners in Statesville put out the white sheet welcome....if a pilot sees a white sheet from the air in a good landing spot, it is a sign that they are welcome to land there. This is much appreciated. Pilots try never to land on property without landowner permission, so a member of their crew may come knocking at your door to ask if it is OK to land (we apologize in advance for any early morning wake-ups!) Balloons in our area fly shortly after sunrise and several hours before sunset, when winds are most stable.
If you hear or see a balloon coming your way and they look like they may be looking to land, you can also yell up to them if it is safe and they are welcome. They can generally hear you. You can also point out any power lines or other hazards they need to avoid. You become part of their crew on the ground.
It's OK if you do not want balloons landing on your property. We understand that there are many reasons for this. Pilots get an area map that have "red zones".....areas they need to avoid in landing. Usually in our area this is due to livestock, but it may also be a landowner specifying in the past they do not want balloons landing on their property. Pilots are very respectful of red zones, and would only knowingly land on one if not landing there would put them and the people in their basket in danger.
We hope you are excited about greeting our pilots as they fly in our area during BalloonFest. Usually they will be flying out of the airport field, but sometimes....usually on Saturday and Sunday mornings....they may participate in a competition that has them driving a mile or so outside of the perimeter of the airport and attempting to fly over the airport field. If you live in that area and see them hovering around and have a good launch spot for them to use, invite them in.
You'll find most pilots and crews to be people lovers, who will enjoy meeting nice people like you. Please make them welcome. We're so proud of our county and its people and love hearing about the Southern hospitality with which most are greeted. You are the reason they want to come back to this area, year after year. Many pilots who attend a lot of festivals say this is their favorite. We believe our community and its love for balloons and balloonists is the reason.
It can be startling to see a balloon land if you don't expect it. Back in the early days of ballooning in France, when the first balloon pilots were landing, people were often terrified of these crazy contraptions hovering over their fields. Balloonists learned to carry a bottle of champagne as a gift to the landowner, so they would be seen as friends and not foes. Some pilots still end their flights with a champagne toast in memory of their predecessors.
As they take off, pilots know that without that steering wheel they may land anywhere. We hope each landing is a great experience for them and the landowners they meet. Welcome them to our area and let them know you are happy to have them. You are our hosts about town, and it wouldn't be the same without you.
On The Breeze ~
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