On arrival at the launch site, the basket (with its disassembled components inside) and the envelope (in a large bag) are first removed from the trailer.
The uprights are attached if necessary, the burner is mounted, connected to the fuel tanks and operated briefly. This tests the burner, the fuel tank pressure, and the integrity of the fuel delivery system. The envelope bag is opened, and the mouth portion of the balloon is pulled out and connected to the basket structure. Then, the bag is pulled way from the basket, in the downwind direction, allowing the envelope to spill out in a straight "streamer" until has all been removed. The sides of the envelope are then sometimes pulled outward to spread the balloon out.
Next comes the beginning of the cold inflation, where the balloon is packed full of cold air, using a gasoline engine fan (typically 5-10hp).
|Usually one crew member is stationed at each side of the envelope's mouth to hold it open and allow the fan to pack it full of cold air. Directly in front of the fan is cold so the task on a cold morning like this often falls to whomever has the most and warmest clothing layers!|
The balloon gradually takes shape under the action of the fan.
|Mike Russell holds one side of the mouth during the inflation. Note his breath fogging in the cold air - it's in the 20's this morning. Colder weather is great for balloons, since they use much less fuel when the outside air is colder. This allows more passengers to be carried and/or further distances to be flown.|
As this is happening, the pilot is taking care of other important activities such as making sure all of the lines and vents are untangled and correctly arranged, and putting the parachute vent into place at the top of the envelope.
|Attaching the parachute vent's Velcro tabs. The parachute is kept in place by the upward pressure of the hot air once the balloon is inflated. To keep it in place during the inflation, there is a series of Velcro tabs which must be attached. Before takeoff, when the balloon is vertical, the vent is opened once to release these tabs.|
Once the balloon is packed with cold air, the pilot crouches behind the burner and operates it continuously for about 30 seconds until the balloon gradually becomes vertical, stepping into the basket during the process. During this hot inflation, one of the crew members holds a line connected to the very top or crown of the balloon, in order to stabilize it horizontally and prevent it becoming vertical too soon (which could lead to some of the fabric billowing too close to the flame and being melted).
The inflation is over when the balloon is standing vertically and neutrally buoyant. At this point, the passengers are invited on board.
Next: Take-off and Flight