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www.balloonlife.com

03.2001

One very useful piece of equipment in
your basket is the drop line. If you don’t
have one, getone. You may not use it very
often, depending on the terrain and condi-
tions where you normally fly, but when
you need it is not the time to swear that
nexttime youwon’tgetcaughtwithoutit.
There are several ideas to be consid-
ered when using a drop line. A dropline is
tobe used to guide the balloonto a favor-
ablelandingsite; tochangetheflight
direction of the balloon away from trees,
crops and other hazards when the wind is
light. The major reason we carry a drop
line is to help us if we become becalmed
over something wecan’t land in oron
such as small ponds,trees, crops, even
buildings,etc.Adroplineisnotfor
tetheringandit is notaninflationtie-off
and it is not normal to use it inhighwind
conditions.
Yourcrewshouldknowasmuch
about its use as youdo. Dropline proce-
duresshouldbepracticedoccasionally,
especially whenever you adda new crew
member. If the crew doesn’t know how to
handle a drop line, all the good intentions
inthe world won’t helpyou. The ground
person doesn’t have to be built like a male
or femalebodybuildingchamptogeta
balloontogowhereyouwantit.Ifyou
worksmarterandnotharder,anyadult
sizepersoncanmoveaballoonaround
whereyou want it in light wind conditions
(0-5mph). The mostimportantthingto
remember is thatthe pilot and crew must
cooperate andworktogether as a team.
Most inexperienced crewpeople grab
onandpullashardastheycan,either
downward while under the balloon or in a
directionagainsttheflightpath.Some
willimmediatelywrapitaroundsome
object or their body to “stop” the balloon.
Thiscancausetheballoontodescend
before the pilot is ready, who then imme-
diately over reacts and putsmore heat in

the balloon to maintain altitude. This only
makesitharderforthecrewpersonto
holdonasthe heattakeseffect. As they
exert more force, the pilot adds more heat
andthetugofwarison(theballoon
usuallywins!).Therearemanyhorror
storiesof crew personslosingtheirbal-
ance,getting thedrop line wrapped around
somebodypartandthenbeingcarried
aloft as the pilot tries to regain altitudinal
controlof their craft.
The problem is that both the pilot and
crewdid something wrong here.Thecrew
personput too muchpull on the balloon,
causingittodescend.The pilot, having
not instructedthe crew, over reacted and
addedtoomuchheattoovercomethe
altitude loss. Instead the pilot should add
only enough heat to reach equilibrium and
lettheballoonstabilize.Byinstructing
the crew not to exert any more downward
force, altitudinal control is regained. The
crew person should hold the line as if he/
she were a post, don’t pull it and wait until
the ballooncomestoa stop. The balloon
will slow to a stop when it reaches the end
of the line. Then the crew person will be
abletoestablishandmaintainabetter
balancedposition.Thenitissimplya
matterof directingandhelpingthebal-
loonto a landingsite.
It is also possible to change the direc-
tion ofthe balloon’s flight path to the right
or left the distance of the drop line. To do
this,youhavethecrewpersontakethe
drop line at a 90º angle to the direction of
theballoon’sflight,andstandstill.The
balloon willpivot aroundtoa new posi-
tiondirectly downwindof the stationary
crew person. There isno needto pullon
the line, just stand firmly inplace andlet
the wind and the balloon’s momentum do
thework.Thepilotneedstounderstand
that when thecrewperson holds theline in
thismanner,verylittleliftwillbelost.
Theballoonmaymomentarilydescend,

but if the pilot keeps the balloon at equi-
librium temperature, it will stabilize on its
own.
Your drop line should be attached to
theballoonbya quick-release device of
somekind.Thisisincasetheline gets
attachedtosomethingundesirable. Haz-
ards such as trees, fences, powerlines, etc.
get in your way when youleast expect it.
Or, maybe someone drags you in the wrong
direction or falls down andgets wrapped
upinthe line.Anyhow,youwanttobe
abletoreleaseitrapidly.Somepeople
recommend carryinga knife for this pur-
pose,butmostofusmaynothavethe
knifereadilyavailable,andifwedoit
poses a severe danger of its own. A quick
release is always ready. Some people will
usetheinflationharnessshackleasthe
pointtoconnectthedroplinequickre-
lease.Nomatterwhereyouhaveitat-
tached, be consistent so youknow where
itisimmediatelyandyoudon’thaveto
lookfor it.
Many commercial ride operators use
droplineswhenflyinginverytightand
limitedlandingareas. Theyalsorecom-
mend the carrying of two drop lines, each
equippedwitha quickrelease,sothatif
theyhaveto“cut”oneloose,theystill
have one available. They also tend to use
a ropefor theirdropline rather thanthe
strap style and they use a stuff bag that is
designedwitha narrow mouthtoallow
therope todeploywithouttangles.The
bag and rope are faster and easier to stuff
and store after landing than the strap style
thatrequiresmeticulousattentiontothe
roll-up and storage.
Nomatterwhichstyledroplineis
used, thepilotandcrew needtocoordi-
nateits useand practice propertechniques.
If you use it only once, all the preparation
andpracticewillhavebeenworththe
effort.

How to Use a Drop Line

by Brian Beazly and Bill Bird

Return to Checklist March 2001


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