Jump to content

November 2022


Recommended Posts

I enjoyed very much watching what I could on the internet of the 50th Big One!  I was also thrilled to “Not Hear’ about any tragic incidents from the event, other than some soaked balloons.  (A big thank you must be made to all the locations that allowed balloons to dry off).  A HUGE hats off to all the participants for making this year’s event a safe one! As far as the soaked balloons go, those who have been in that situation know how miserable it is, and how easy it is to damage a soaking wet balloon.  I remember one time we had a 105 that was so soaking wet that the lift gate could not get it up into the back of the van.  I also remember parking a van with the front wheels up on a curb stop to tilt the van enough so that the water would drain out the back of the van.   Hats off to all the pilots, volunteers, zebras, officials, and the ground teams for another spectacular display of man’s oldest and most amazing form of flight.

Chasing Pi-Bal’s

So, how fast does a Pi-Bal climb?  How far up can you see one?  How do you know? 

As part of our continuing Drone Winds project we have done some experiments using a drone and chasing Pi-Bals.  Again my amazing father, Copy of PiBal-LightsSM.jpgvolunteered (or was drafted) to help.  We went out about an hour and a half before sunrise.  We took a helium tank, some yellow balloons and some small round LED lights.  The experiment was to launch some pi-bals with lights in them and literally chase them.  Our goal was to get real world answers to the questions above.  How long can you see them?  How fast do they climb and how far away are they when you lose sight of them.  Well, here are some of the specifics.  The latex balloon is a standard 12” balloon.  The lights are small ½ inch round LED lights that weight 1.88 grams.  The balloons rate of climb was between 300-316 ft/min.  See a short video of one of the “Chasing Pi-Bals” Flights.

We chose a very special location to perform our experiment.  We went to an 8sq mile area with several 250 ft radio towers nearby and directly west of Disney Worlds TFR.  This TFR is 3,000 ft tall and 6 miles in diameter.  There were several reasons for choosing this location. First, the tall radio tower would allow us to exceed the 400 ft altitude limit for the drone flight. See FAR 107.51 (B) (2)   The TFR would add an extra safeguard for other aircraft in the area since they would likely be above the TFR if flying nearby. This means that we would have clear TestingArea.pngairspace from the ground up to 3,000 ft AGL.  Another reason is that this entire area is under development, and at this moment only has roads that are mostly unfinished so there would be very few lights and almost no traffic in the area.  This would allow us to chase the pi-bal, till we more or less lost sight of it.  We launched a total of three balloons. We timed them and chased two of them till we lost sight of them.  We found that with the 14-15 mph winds aloft, we would lose sight of the balloon in just over 3 minutes.  When we lost sight of the balloon it was around 800 to 1,000 feet AGL.   We also repeated this test during the day time.  Using a Black 12” balloon on an afternoon with winds aloft of less than 6 mph we found that the rate of climb was nearly identical but we could see the balloon for just over 6 minutes before we lost it.  That would be just around 2,000 feet.  This was on a very light wind day with a light overcast sky.   Had the winds been higher we doubt we would have been able to keep our eyes on it as long as we did.  Our conclusion is that if you are using a helium balloon to test the winds before your flight you are most likely only viewing the first 1,000 feet of wind off the ground.  Even in the daylight in the best of conditions you are most likely not seeing the Pi-Bal much past 1,500 ft.     

Getting a good report.

One of the unexpected results of our “Chasing a Pibal” experiment was that we found that the Drone Winds report was skewed.  Below are two 10-27Compair.pngDrone Winds reports from that same morning.  One was done prior to the “Chasing a pibal” test so we would have a baseline of what the winds were and then the report from the actual event of chasing the pibal.  Notice how the winds report was somewhat erratic when the drone was trying to chase the helium balloon.  The vertical speed was ranging from 2mph to 5mph and sometimes even 6mph as we tried to keep up with the balloon.  This translated into varied readings in our wind report.  The conclusion from this was that for a Drone Winds report to be accurate you need to take a very steady and smooth ascent and descent.

Drones can’t go that high!

We mentioned this in one of our previous newsletters.  According to 107.5 (B), (1) & (2) If you are within 400 ft of a structure you can go up to 400 ft TowerReadings.pngabove the uppermost limit of that structure.  So find a radio tower in your area and use it as your structure.  If you can find a local Cell Tower (most are 250 ft) you can take your drone up to 650ft if you are near that tower.  Just remember a couple of points.  Watch out for the guide wires.  Make sure you know where they are so you can stay clear of them.  Also try to be upwind of the tower.  The tower will influence the wind down wind of the tower and can give you false readings.  But if you are perpendicular or upwind of the tower you should get good readings.  Also remember that 107.51 (C) requires a minimum of 3 statute mile visibility.  For pre-dawn wind checks you should have your drone equipped with lights as well.  For lighting guidelines see 107.29.  If you can answer YES to (a)(b)(c)&(d) then you may be able to operate without a waiver.   With the results from our “Chasing Pi-Bal’s” experiment you are getting results from your drone that may be better than your actual Pibal on those pre-dawn flights.  Your altitude is slightly short of what your pibal is showing you but the results the Drone Winds flight is giving you is a much more detailed and precise set of data. 

All of this information is contained in the Drone Winds presentation on HotAirBalloonist.com.  Remember Logged in Members can download ALL presentations for FREE!

Things Change

As we do our research reading winds with a drone we are learning a great deal of valuable information.   Here are a few VERY USEFUL items to keep in mind when planning your next flight.  Things Change!  While the “drone wind” readings do a fantastic job of documenting and presenting the wind direction and speeds at altitudes for your flight planning it does not “Forecast” what the winds will do. Knowing the general weather synopsis of your area and having a good idea of what the future trends are expected to do is still a hugely helpful thing to know.  Keep in mind when the winds are expected to increase.  Are the winds going to be turning right or left as the flight progresses?  Will the winds die down?  These are all very important things to consider when planning a flight.  Things WILL CHANGE.10-27Changing.png

One of the benefits of using a drone to read the winds is the cost effectiveness of the drone.  If you go out and use 5 pi-bals in one morning it will be considerably more costly than if you used one.  However, if you make 5 drone flights it does not cost any more.  As we discussed above there are ways you can legally get your drone to go a little higher without the need for a waiver and get great results.  In this image you see two drone wind reports.  Report A was taken at 6:01 am and Report B was taken at 6:21 am.  They were taken exactly 2 miles apart.  I have highlighted similar altitudes in each for comparison.  You can see several things happening just in the 20 minute separation between flights.  In Report B the winds appear to be shifting more to the left as time goes on.  The upper wind speeds seem to be fairly consistent but the mid layer seems to be slowing some and shifting a little to the lower layers.  In the area of Florida where we fly this is a very common trend.  We often have brisk winds aloft pre-dawn that settle as the sun comes up.  As we mentioned in a previous newsletter the timeframe for getting out your drone, launching it and getting a report is nearly the same as using a Pi-Bal.  The primary difference is the overall cost.  WDroneWindsICON.pnge now have 3 pilots in our area that use drones instead of helium balloons for preflight wind readings and all of them agree that with the cost and availability issues of helium, the drone is the way to go.  If you have questions or want to learn more remember we have a very comprehensive presentation available in the Download Center on HAB about using drones to read the winds.  How it is done, Costs, Aps and more.  Remember to LOG IN, Members can download all files for FREE.

I now have over 400 drone flights, months of comparisons to winds aloft comparisons and even side by side flight logs to compare.  If you have questions I am more than happy to help in any way I can.  Send me an email at Info@HotAirBalloonist.com and I will try to answer your questions and potentially post information for others.  For those of you who have recently purchased Helium or found that you are having a hard time getting helium have a read of this article about shortages.   Helium Shortage 4.0


As we continue our research each morning to take our Drone Winds report and compare it to the Winds Aloft forecast we had one morning were we were surprised.  The drone we are using has the ability to receive ADS-B signals.  It alerts us whenever a manned aircraft is in the area.  This is a fantastic feature because it helps us keep our drone out of the way of other aircraft.  So any time a warning goes off it startles us a little, especially at 6 in the morning in the dark!  But this warning was one I had not seen before.  This was a HIGH WIND warning. WindWarning.pngThe Drone had entered a layer of wind at about 600’ that was moving at 29.26 MPH.  This prompted us to bring the drone back down.  The drones top speed is only 42MPH so it would not have taken much more wind and we would have been flying backwards!  Fortunately as we brought the drone back down the winds also became less and losing the drone was not an issue.   Had we been out for a flight that morning we would have (most likely) cancelled the flight.  If the wind is moving that fast at only 600 feet of altitude then it is not the day to take paying passengers on a flight!   We did not launch a Pi-Bal on this morning but it would have been interesting to see if we could have even been able to see the Pi-Bal get into that wind before we would have lost sight of it.  More interesting would be if we could have even judged this sort of speed with a pi-bal? 

Become a Member

As always we want to encourage you to support the HAB site.  Paid memberships help us pay for the server fees and SSL requirements for the internet as well as hosting fees and domain fees and more.  I donate ALL of my time to keep the site up to date, eliminate spam, and answer emails and more.  If you do not have a paid membership on the site please consider at least a general membership for $20 a year.  Log IN and participate.  Ask questions and let me know the kinds of things you want to see on the site as well as in the newsletters.  I no longer fly but I am incredibly thankful to the balloon community for all it has given me over the years.  Thousands of flights, Tens of thousands of passengers, More friends than I deserve and EACH OF YOU, taking the time to read my rantings and allowing me to stay in touch with you, all I can say is,

Thank you for all you do for the Balloon World.



A Balloon Site built by Balloonists for

Balloonist's Become a Member Today

Jeff A Thompson.  Admin@HotAirBalloonist.com 407-421-9322

44 year LTA pilot, BFA member since 1977, BFA Level DA-8, Ed Yost Master Pilot. 6500 flights, 5650 Flight Hours

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...