Written by Karen Brown, Pilot
After the main launch of hot air balloons have
drifted away, you will notice a few balloons that seem to be bobbing
around at low altitude over the field. These are the tethered balloons.
This is your opportunity to ride a tethered balloon. Tethered balloons
are tied off by three or more lines to objects on the ground, usually vehicles,
to restrict their flight. The tethered balloon will launch, go up approximately
50 feet, float and land.
As a passenger, the feeling you experience with tethered flight is the same as
with a free, un-tethered, flight of 1000 feet. The only difference is the view.
For the balloon pilot and crew, it involves a bit more work. Although the balloon
fabric is chemically treated to protect it, heat can reduce the life of the balloon.
More heat is needed for the repeated liftoffs and landings of tethering than
with non-tethered flight. This repeated heating of the balloon not only must
be closely monitored by the pilot, but it also subjects the pilot to a constant
barrage of heat with each burner blast. With each passenger exchange, the pilot
must mentally calculate the total weight for lift temperatures to keep a slow,
steady launch and prevent jerking the balloon and passengers when the balloon
reaches the end of the tie off line. Normal launch speed would be about 200 feet
per minute. While tethering, it needs to stay around 25 feet per minute. Pilots
who tether also have to be prepared to answer questions at the same time they
are managing the flight. Sometimes the same questions get answered over and over
and over, so patience and personality are a must. (No shy guys and gals here!)
Pilots also need a great crew, preferably five, to help tether. As hard as tethering
is on the balloon and pilot, it is even harder on the crew. In traditional flight,
after the balloon is inflated, crew will typically help a pilot launch and land
once. This involves providing "weight on" for launch (adding extra weight to
the basket until the pilot has the balloon stabilized with passengers) and stepping
back when told, and repeating the process again for landing. For a tethered operation,
this must happen dozens of times, while passengers are loaded and unloaded. The
crew must also monitor the tether lines, manage safety and crowd control, collect
money and/or tickets and help with passenger weight distribution. All this must
be done while also providing a constant supply of water to the overheated pilot!
Crew must also be prepared to answer frequent questions and provide public relations
for the pilot and the balloon show. Again, patience and personality are very
Even though tethering is hard, there are pilots and crew out there who love to
have this opportunity to share their love of ballooning with the general public
and give the experience of balloon flight. So get in line early to get your tethered
Unfortunately, standing in line will not guarantee a tethered flight. There
are a number of reasons why the tethered rides are over early in the day. Weather
conditions (the wind picks up), low fuel and time constraints are just a few
reasons why a pilot will take down the balloon. Most pilots and crew do not want
to take the balloon down while there are people in line, but sometimes it is
unavoidable. If you see another balloon still tethering, get in that line and
hope for the best.
Now that you know about tethering, go experience balloon flight, sign up to be
a volunteer, crew member or sponsor for next year's balloon event. Maybe
next time you will have that view from 1000 feet up.