So the pilot and passengers have floated up into the sky and the job of the crew has only just begun. Former Virgin Balloon Flights crew and guest blogger Jess Baughan tells us what happens next.
Once the balloon has taken off, the crew will load everything that doesn’t fly back onto the trailer (this includes the inflation fans and various other bits of equipment) and keep an eye on the balloon to get a fix on the general direction and speed that the balloon is going at.
Once a rough speed and direction have been calculated, friends and family of the passengers are told what area to head for if they want to be close when the balloon lands. They are also told two other important bits of information…
1. Please don’t follow the crew vehicles, if we make a wrong turn its already tricky to reverse an 18 foot trailer up a country lane to turn it around, an extra 10 or so cars behind the trailer make it even more of a challenge.
2. If they get to the exact spot where the balloon lands, please do not enter the field that we have landed in unless the crew invite you to enter.
What happens next depends on the wind. If it’s calm, the crew may talk with the friends and family of the passengers answering ballooning questions and sharing experiences before leaving to chase the balloon. If it’s breezy (and the balloon is heading off fairly quickly) then the crew will not hang around and will start to chase the balloon as soon as possible.
The chase – while the balloon is in the air the crew’s job is to stay as close as possible to the balloon on the ground, in most cases playing a game of leapfrog where the crew get ahead of the balloon, let it pass over them and then get ahead of the balloon again. This continues for around an hour before the pilot lands the balloon, always looking to avoid fields with livestock or uncut crop.
Once the balloon is on the ground again the fun of getting to the balloon starts for the crew, where possible the pilot will keep the balloon standing upright so that it can take off again if the need arises.
In most cases the crew will need to find the landowner in order to gain permission to enter the land and retrieve the balloon (strictly speaking permission is not normally required because of legal complexities surrounding commercial passenger aircraft, so this is done more out of courtesy and as it follows the Code of Conduct agreed between the BBAC and NFU). Landowners are generally very friendly and will come up to the balloon, often with a camera and a smile.
Once the crew are in the field with the balloon the envelope will be deflated and packing the balloon away begins, this is pretty much the reverse of setting it all up, the basket is loaded back onto the trailer, the envelope is rolled up and put in its bag and put back on the trailer and everything is strapped down.
Depending on the landing site, Champagne (and soft drinks) may be bought out at this point for the traditional toast before everyone is transported back to the original launch site to bid a final farewell.
Once the flight is over the crew will take the balloon back to their base and the whole thing starts again. All being well the time is now around 10am. The next flight will probably be around 7pm.
Just enough time for the crew to catch a bit more sleep, Zzzz …