As someone who has been part of the hot air ballooning community for over 23 years, and has worked with more pilots than I can count as a crew member and also as a Crew Chief, I have made up a list of a few "Best Practices" that I have developed. Having been involved in more than one tricky takeoff or landing, and a few "incidents" as well, you learn a few things from each one. This is by no means a comprehensive list but maybe one of these tips will start a discussion and be helpful to someone. In no particular order...
- Have a code setup for the pilot to radio the crew in the event of an in flight emergency where you have a situation that is going to require medical intervention. Something like the pilot telling the crew "I left my gloves on the dashboard of the chase vehicle." Make it something that you know the pilot would not radio you about under any normal scenario. When you hear that you know that the pilot needs to get down ASAP, there is something seriously wrong and you need to have emergency services standing by.
- Make sure every crew member knows how to shut off the fuel tanks and pull the red line. If something happens while in flight or at landing this is critical for safety.
- Make sure all crew know how to do a 360 survey of the surroundings at takeoff and landing. This has proved invaluable more than once. Sometimes in the rush to takeoff you might be inflating downwind off the side of a road but you might miss the possibility that when the balloon goes upright it could be too close to a power line.
- Have a way to communicate with the person on the crown line. I bought an inexpensive set of 2 way radios for when I am on the crown line. I leave one with crew at the basket and I take the other. If something goes wrong during inflation you may not be able to see another person to alert them. Having a radio you can let someone know. It might be that you see something that can be easily fixed prior to fully inflating, but you can't relay that if you aren't able to communicate.
- Make sure that you have a list of local emergency numbers and nearby airports readily available in the chase vehicle. Make sure the crew knows where to find emergency contact info for any passengers and crew also. This can be easily obtained on the waiver forms without making anyone think twice. Some pilots even ask for medication allergies or special medical condition notes as in an emergency these can save precious time.
- If at a multi balloon event there is a chance you might get separated from your balloon or crew. Sometimes crew is asked to help another pilot or for whatever reason you might end up separated. Have a rendezvous point back on the field or somewhere centrally located after the flight. Also have the pilot's mobile phone number.
- Watch for passengers and other crew with long hair, lanyards or dangling jewelry. Keep them away from the fan.
- Never let bystanders or even crew help on the crown line without gloves and NEVER let them wrap the crown line around their body or limbs. Have a handle on the end of the crown line.
- Make sure you have the trust of your pilot. If I were to motion to cut off the fan or the fuel for whatever reason all of the pilots that I have crewed for know that I must have a good reason and they wouldn't take the time to hesitate if I signaled them.
- Never be afraid to stand up to a pilot. If your gut tells you something is not safe do not be silent. This has only happened a couple of times in all these years but in both cases the pilot told me I was right. If you see something or feel something isn't right then say something. One occasion was when I saw distant lightning at inflation. The pilot did not see it. If we had went airborne we could have had a very bad flight. The other was when I noticed a pronounced wind gust at treetop level when winds were nearly calm at ground level and had been moments earlier above. Within a couple of minutes we had 20 MPH wind from an outflow that was not showing up on radar. If you aren't comfortable flying make sure your pilot knows that.
- Know how to read and interpret a weather radar. Know what a gust front looks like on radar. These can create gusty winds with no precipitation and are common in late afternoon and early evening as distant storms collapse.
- Always be helpful to other balloonists and crew. We all have one mission. Safety of our pilot, crew, and passengers. Helping someone land before or after your balloon lands and is secure is a great gesture and will likely be returned at some point.
- During liftoff at an event with multiple balloons be watching above your balloon. Let pilot know of any traffic above him.
- If your flight path will take you over or near a prison, have their number handy. A quick phone call never hurts. We routinely call the local prison in a certain town and let them know if we are flying over. Make sure they know you are not landing there and will maintain 500 or 1000 feet over their facility. This creates lots of goodwill with local authorities and avoids any tense situation that might develop.
- Make sure your crew knows how to interact with media and police. Have an emergency contact person if possible such as an event organizer or a balloonist who is not flying to be able to give them as a contact if your pilot is not immediately available. Know how to explain that a subdivision or road landing was "normal and routine" and how to diffuse the situation with facts.
I am sure there are more things that I could suggest. Hope some of these help folks. Have fun and be safe.