Aviation Safety Letter 2/2005

Beware the Midair

Reprinted from Aviation Safety Ultralight and Balloon 1/1990

Beware the Midair

Summer is fast approaching and this will bring a new season of balloon fiestas. This usually involves the launching of numerous balloons at the same time and from a common launch area. Now is a good time to review the general safety precautions and particularly a few points about coordinating lookouts in your balloon for the purpose of avoiding in-flight contact with another balloon. It is important to observe balloons immediately below your basket as potential for collision. Groups of balloons launched together must climb very slowly until separation is assured.

A fatal accident in Australia in the late eighties dramatically demonstrated how serious this problem can be. Two balloons, part of a group of four launched at approximately the same time, collided in flight.

Passengers in the surviving balloon reported that the canopy of the lower ascending balloon contacted the basket of their higher balloon, then collapsed. Without the inflated canopy for buoyancy, the large balloon fell out of control to the ground, with fatal injuries to the pilot and 12 passengers. This type of accident also occurred in the USA during a competition, with serious injury to the pilot of the rapidly ascending balloon.

It is the pilot's decision to launch and fly in close proximity to other balloons; therefore, coordination with respect to lookout for balloons ascending from below is essential. A pilot of an ascending balloon may not see a balloon directly overhead; therefore, he or she must rise very slowly to allow the pilot of the higher balloon, who can see the activity below, time to increase the climb rate as necessary to avoid a collision. Also, balloons tend to separate after takeoff due to varying local breezes, so ascending slowly allows more time for this to occur, thus increasing the margin of safety from a potential midair encounter.

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