In part one on Handling the Crown Line the discussion centered around what a crew member might expect during a windy inflation and precautions that should be exercised. This month the column examines calmer conditions.
In less windy conditions it is not necessary to keep the line taut during the cold inflation. Simply hold on to the end of the line, but allow it to be slack while the fan is filling the balloon with ambient air. If it is totally calm it may be necessary to put some pressure on the line in order to keep the envelope from falling back toward the basket. This will keep the lines or cables that connect the envelope to the basket from hanging down in front of the burner where they would be in danger of being burned or overheated during the hot inflation. Remember, in calm conditions the tighter you hold he crown line the harder it is for the fan to fill the balloon with air prior to the hot inflation. Holding the crown line very tight in this instance is often the cause of the exciting and dreaded “SOFT INFLATION”. It is both exciting and dreaded because everyone is standing around watching and taking bets on how bad the pilot is going to burn the mouth of the balloon while the pilot is trying to direct the flame into the small opening caused by the balloon being less than full. The chances of burning a balloon that has been fully inflated are much less than one that is only partially inflated due to a crown line that is being held too tight.
Once the balloon is completely filled with ambient air the pilot is ready to turn on the burner for the hot inflation. The purpose of the crown line at this time is to help steady the balloon as it comes up to a vertical position. Normally a pilot does not go out and inform the crown person that he/she is going to burn now. The pilot simply charges up the fuel system, lights the pilot light and burns. The crown line person can easily tell when this happens by listening for the burner and watching the envelope. When the pilot begins the burn the envelope will start shaking or quivering and as the heat inside the balloon increases the balloon will begin to rise from the ground. When it rises approximately 45 degrees the crown person should begin pulling back very hard. The purpose of this action is to stop the balloon as it reaches a vertical position. If allowed to pass beyond vertical the balloon will pendulum back and forth.
How many times have you seen one or two crown persons holding the balloon down with all their might during the cold and hot inflation. During the hot inflation the pilot will keep burning until the lift overcomes the efforts of the crown person. When the crown person releases pressure on the line the balloon will then shoot up to vertical and often the pilot finds the basket leaving the ground long before expected. Another example of mishandling the crown line is the person who becomes excited when the balloon begins to rise from the ground. They will often forget that the job of handling the crown is not yet complete. The balloon starts to rise and the crown person gets excited and just runs the line to the basket without applying any pressure to stop the pendulum motion. The balloon is now rocking back and forth and the pilot is wondering where all the motion came from. Has the wind picked up? Has he been hit by a thermal? What the heck is going on here?
One last note to the crown person: when the balloon is vertical get to the basket as soon as you can to help with the actual launch. If you are crewing for a balloon that requires tying the crown line off to the basket you should run the end of the line in and fasten it properly. If your balloon has the short line that does not tie off to the basket simply let go of the line and move quickly to the basket to assist. Often the weight of all the crew people will be necessary to overcome false lift in a windy situation.
Pilots, please remember the importance of a properly handled crown line. If it was not important it could be described in one or two paragraphs instead of being a complete course at the University of Crew. You should instruct the crown person as to exactly what you expect of them. Also, please do not forget the crown person during the inflation. Talk to this person before you send them out there. When doing your walk around or when setting the top, turn and wave to them. It will make them feel a part of the team instead of just a dope at the end of the rope.
As I stated at the beginning of this series, the descriptions of how to crew are from my personal experience; how I was taught and how I teach crewing. Your pilot’s experiences may be different and thus you may receive different instructions. Because they differ does not mean they are wrong. Just use common sense and be safe. As always, please forward comments or suggestions to me at P. O. Box 830011, Richardson, Texas 75083 or e-mail: email@example.com. (New E-mail address.)