Knowing where a balloon can launch, fly and land is an important element in good, pro-active landowner relations. Balloonists spend countless hours talking with landowners, in part to learn about a flying area. The information gathered is often incorporated onto a map of the area—a visual reference to be used when flying and chasing.
The mapping of a balloon area is often the responsibility of one individual, someone who volunteers to make the additions and changes as new information becomes available. The master map is then made available at club meetings or at a local gathering point, such as a repair station. Other interested parties copy the information from the master map onto their own maps.
Recently Neville Wallace has proposed a standard for recording map information and the dissemination of the maps. The Marked-up Map System takes advantage of inexpensive, readily available computer technology to easily record, maintain, produce, and distribute maps that balloonists use.
The purpose of the Marked-up Map System is to proactively assist landowners and balloonists (pilots and crew) by distributing standardized, up-to-date, and highly usable information which will help prevent inconvenience to landowners during balloon flights and retrieval.
The keystone to the system is The Balloonist's Marked-up Map System Handbook, a 31 page explanation of how the mapping system works. This manual is free to download and may be produced locally for distribution.
The author does warn at the beginning that, "The Marked-up Map System is neither complete nor accurate and is prone to error. It is the Marked-up Map System User's responsibility to verify the information contained in the system prior to using it. Information in the system should not form part of the collection of ‘all available information' required in pre-flight planning as per the FAA FAR's. The system does not override any other source of information including the FAA Sectional Maps. The system should be used as an aid only. Information contained in the system should not be used to the extent that life, limb or property is put at risk. Administrators and contributors accept no liability whatsoever. If you don't agree or don't understand this paragraph, do not use the system."
Definitions and Conventions
Before exploring how the system works a few definitions need to be made to establish standards and conventions for the Marked-up Map.
Balloon Area - each area typically represents an area of about 20 miles radius in which balloon flight is frequent. A local administrator prepares and maintains the map information and distributes the maps in different formats; paper, floppy diskette, e-mail, or the World Wide Web. A balloon area may be simply a valley, or the area between two airports, or an area 100 miles long and 15 miles wide. The responsibility for maintaining landowner information, producing Marked-up Maps and sharing information for a specific balloon area lies with the local administrator and all other balloonists in that specific balloon area.
Local Administrator - each balloon area has a designated individual (self-appointed or by the local balloon club) who is responsible for maintaining landowner information, producing Marked-up Maps for that area and freely distributing the information and maps to all.
Computer software - The local administrator needs access to a word processing program and DeLorme Street Atlas USA (current version 4.0). The word processing document contains detailed information on locations or zones where balloon flight is welcome/unwelcome or safe/unsafe. The Street Atlas file contains a Map Overlay which allows landowner information to appear directly on maps when viewed or printed via the Street Atlas software. The local administrator distributes these files freely. User can either use their own version of Street Atlas (estimated street price less than $50) to process and print their own Marked-up Maps, or obtain printed paper copies of the list and Marked-up Map from the local administrator or other users of the system.
Delorme's license agreement states, "If you are a registered user, you may reproduce up to 10,000 copies of any Street Atlas USA map for use in paper reports such as appraisals or environmental studies, for distribution to colleagues or clients, provided that no such item includes more than (50) different Street Atlas USA maps and that the distribution does not constitute a general and unrestricted publication for sale or resale or contain paid advertising."
How does it all work?
Any area in the U.S. where balloon flight is frequent appoints its own Balloon Area local administrator. Balloonists assist the local administrator as much as possible by sharing any landowner-related information collected from a flight. The local administrator sets up a Landowner Information List using information retrieved from balloonists and landowners. Landing cards (landowner raffle cards) are an excellent source. The Landowner Information List describes areas where balloons are welcome (Green Zones) and unwelcome (Red Zones). The information may include contacts for permission, minimum altitude AGL over livestock, etc. The local administrator ensures that the information on the Landowner Information List is available to all balloonists in the Balloon Area. The local balloon club newsletter is the usual medium.
The local administrator then uses the information on the Landowner Information List to produce a DeLorme Street Atlas USA Overlay File. The local administrator distributes this file (via floppy disk or e-mail) and uploads it to the WEB site so that other balloonists can, with their own copy of Street Atlas, produce up-to-date Marked-up Maps which display information about areas where balloons are welcome or unwelcome. The local administrator also prints hard copy Marked-up Maps using Street Atlas and distributes them to balloonists who don't have the Street Atlas software.
The Marked-up Maps are then used during balloon flights by both pilot and chase crew. The pilot refers to the Marked-up Map to determine where low-level balloon flight and landings are welcome/unwelcome or safe/unsafe. The chase crew refers to the Marked-up Map to get an idea of where the balloon is likely to land (or not land). The chase crew can also refer to the Marked-up Map to find instructions for a specific landing site (e.g. landowner name, whether landowner prefers a phone call or a visit etc.).
When pilots do have a choice of flight-level and landing sites, the Marked-up Maps assist them to avoid airspace where balloons are not welcome and to land in areas where balloons are welcome. The Marked-up Maps also assist the crew in retrieving the balloon following the landowners specific instructions.
Balloonists provide the local administrator with updates and corrections and the local administrator continues to distribute updated versions of the Landowner Information List, Street Atlas Overlay File and printed Marked-up Maps on an on-going basis.
Visiting balloonists from outside the Balloon Area contact the local administrator (or any balloonist in the area using the system) to obtain the information they need, whether it be a Street Atlas file or printed Marked-up Map.
In addition, the local administrator assists balloon rallies in the area by preparing tailored Marked-up Maps. These are invaluable to out-of-town pilots and assist in preventing landowner aggravation associated with a sudden increase in ballooning activity due to a rally or event. Normally the Marked-up Maps are sent to the event pilots in advance so that they can be reviewed by both pilot and chase crew before the event. Marked-up Maps for a 20-mile radius are then a mandatory requirement along with logbook, registration and insurance at pilot check-in.
Landowner Information List
The purpose of the landowner information list is to store information which cannot be stored on Marked-up Maps due to too much information or some of the information being sensitive or confidential.
Types of information that might be stored includes; green/red status, location, date of data input, contact, and any description regarding the property.
Map Overlay File
The Marked-up Map has several standard features:
Date stamp to determine which file is the most current;
Red and green zones. Yellow zones are not currently supported by the system;
Airport information and airspace classifications B, C, D, and E.
Printing Marked-up Maps
Maps may be printed in a variety of formats and different sizes of paper depending on printer capabilities. The handbook recommends printing the maps on standard letter size paper.
Undoubtedly the Marked-up Map System, if used, will meet its objective defined at the beginning of this article, that is, proactively assisting landowners and balloonists by helping to prevent inconvenience to landowners by balloonists during balloon flight and retrieval.
The appointment of a responsible local administrator and the willingness of local balloonists to assist that local administrator are the keys to the effectiveness of the Marked-up Map system in a specific balloon area. Using standard notations symbols in each balloon area is the key to the Marked-up Map system working on a national level.