What goes up must come down, and that applies to your hot air balloon as well. Before you book a balloon ride, you’re interested in learning more about the landing process, especially where you’ll end up as the ballooning experience ends. Where should you expect to make landfall?
Hot air balloon pilots will land the balloon in an open, level area such as a parking lot, a pasture, or a field. The landing spot is not known ahead of the ride and is dependent on where the wind takes you during the trip. The balloon pilot and ground crew coordinate the landing.
In this article, we’ll talk a lot more about hot air balloon landings, from where you’ll land to what it’s like. By the time you’re done reading, you should feel ready enough to take a ride in a hot air balloon!
Where Should a Hot Air Balloon Land?
When you schedule a hot air balloon ride, there’s a predetermined meeting space where you and your group will gather. This might be a winery, a retail building, or sometimes right outside a scenic location in town.
Depending on where you gather, you might launch into the sky not too far from the meeting location, or you might be transported via car or van to the launch location.
If you’re expecting to arrive back at the launch location courtesy of the hot air balloon, that’s highly unlikely. Why is that? Each hot air balloon ride is unique, so even if every trip lasts 60 minutes, how far you go and where you’ll end up varies.
It’s for that reason that the balloon pilot has no specific landing spot planned when they take off with you in the basket. Close to when your ride is supposed to end, they’ll choose a landing spot based on the following criteria.
Large and Open
Hot air balloons are positively massive. The average height of a hot air balloon is seven stories, and the width of a balloon is 55 feet. The nylon envelope itself is 1,800 square feet, which is bigger than many apartments and even some homes.
The pilot needs an area to land with more than enough space to accommodate the balloon. When planning the ballooning route, the pilot and their crew will usually select a path that has open areas nearby.
What entails an open area varies geographically. For some ballooning adventures, the open area might mean landing in an empty parking lot. Much more often, you’ll settle into an area of greenery such as a field or a pasture.
No Power Lines
This is the most important consideration of all: staying far away from power lines.
In a recent blog post, we talked about a 2016 hot air ballooning incident in Lockhart, Texas where the balloon hit power lines. Everyone on the balloon died, and as of this writing, the incident is still the deadliest in the country involving hot air balloons.
A balloon pilot can’t afford to risk it. If there’s an open area with power lines in the vicinity, the pilot should decline to go anywhere near there. Even if the hot air balloon ride has to last a little longer to find a more suitable landing spot, then so be it.
No People or Animals
Open areas don’t always mean empty. If people are in the vicinity, such as a parking lot, then it’s not a viable spot for the hot air balloon to land. Even if there are cars in the parking lot, the pilot more than likely would not attempt a landing there, as what if they hit the car? Then the pilot would be liable for the damage.
A pasture or field must be free of animals big and small. Animals are unpredictable creatures, and thus, it’s hard to be confident in how well a landing would go with an animal in the vicinity. Plus, there’s a risk the animal could possibly be hurt by landing, and that’s not something the balloon pilot wants on their conscience.
Does a Hot Air Balloon Land in the Right Spot?
As the last section exemplifies, there is no one particular “right spot” for a hot air balloon pilot to land. They have a handful of options.
It’s not like a balloon pilot comes across a field or a grassy pasture by chance. As experienced pilots, they’ve been flying a hot air balloon across the same general area for quite a while, usually several years. They know exactly what’s where and when.
Even if they don’t know the area that well, they don’t make the landing spot decisions alone, as we said. The pilot and the ground crew will stay in touch.
As you’re flying and enjoying the sights from the basket of a hot air balloon, the ground crew will always keep the balloon in sight. They’ll follow the balloon’s trajectory by car.
The crew might suggest a landing area to the pilot or vice-versa. The ground crew will then scope out whether the area is clear and safe for the balloon to land.
For every landing spot they choose, a pilot and their crew will usually have a backup location or two in mind in case the first spot becomes unavailable due to wind or inclement weather.
Can Hot Air Balloons Control Where They Land?
Another thing you’re wondering about is how much control a hot air balloon pilot has over precisely where the balloon lands.
Well, not to scare you, but the pilot isn’t in complete control. They follow the wind.
On gentle days where the wind is a calm breeze, then the hot air balloon will glide effortlessly through the sky. That makes for a very soft and easy landing. However, you won’t go far in the balloon on this ride due to the tranquil air currents.
Windier days will allow you to travel more, so you can see already how the balloon pilot would have different landing options on a windier day than they would on a calmer one.
Although the pilot is at the mercy of the wind, they’re anything but helpless.
The pilot and their crew will study wind patterns before they ever launch a hot air balloon into the sky. If the winds are coming more southward, then a pilot and their crew might decide to move the launch location southward as well. This way, the balloon will move northward as it flies.
There’s no need to fear the wind, as it’s part of what allows a hot air balloon to maneuver. The pilot can only raise or lower the height of the balloon using propane burners that make gas into a liquid. The heat that reaches the envelope causes the balloon to rise.
Any directional maneuvering occurs due to the wind. If you’re looking for an exciting ballooning experience, you’ll want a windier day than you would a calm breeze.
That said, if the wind speeds are too high or rough, the pilot and/or their crew will decide to ground the flight until the wind lessens. If the wind keeps up, then your ride will have to be rescheduled for a clearer day. This is for everyone’s safety, even if it is disappointing.
What Is the Landing Like in a Hot Air Balloon?
We wrote a post detailing what the landing process entails in a hot air balloon, so we’ll use this section as a recap.
The wind is the determining factor as to how pleasant or bumpy your landing might be. On a picturesque day with a light breeze, bringing the hot air balloon back down to earth will be a quick and seemingly effortless process, as we established.
The balloon pilot will be able to gently glide you to the ground, where your basket will kiss the dirt (or the asphalt) with nary a bump. Then it’s time to exit the balloon and perhaps enjoy a champagne toast for your successful ride.
When the winds are stronger, then your landing speed increases. The pilot will do his or her best to bring you down as smoothly as possible, but your basket might scrape or bump against the ground upon landing. This can spook you a little, but you shouldn’t be injured.
Even in faster winds, you’re not slamming into the ground, but coming down slowly and with as much control as the pilot can manage in the wind. Your landing speed will always be under five miles per hour except in rare situations such as emergency landings.
When landing in a hot air balloon, there’s no one right spot, but several. These include empty parking lots, fields, and pastures. The area must have no animals or people and especially be free of power lines.
Remember, the balloon pilot and their crew will always scope out where you’ll land ahead of time. Even if you never land in the same place twice in a hot air balloon, your landing spot isn’t a complete surprise either, at least not to the pilot!