Hears to you
When you fly a balloon there are a number of delicate instruments on board including the variometer, altimeter, and temperature indicator. In addition to these electrically driven components you use an exquisitely sensitive mechano-electric transducer system. Unlike the first three, few pilots have it inspected annually. To make matters worse we tend to abuse it, much more so than the first three. What is this sensitive "instrument"? Your ears and the thousands of sensory receptors of the inner ear called hair cells.
Larry Nelson has researched the relationship between balloon flying and the ear. Beginning on page 17 he presents his findings in a Special Report, The Dangers of Burner Noise.
Noise is also a stressor and can affect your ability to accomplish the task at hand. An inexpensive way to protect your hearing is foam ear plugs. They are easy to use and still allow you to hear someone speak when you are wearing them. The burner may sound a little strange since they can reduce the sound level reaching the ear drum by 29 decibels.
Another way to maltreat your amazing ears is to fly high when you have a cold. The atmospheric pressure in the external ear canal decreases as you gain altitude. The middle ear, being a closed chamber, remains at ground level pressure and the differential pressure causes the ear drum to bulge outward. However, the inner ear senses the excess pressure and opens the Eustachian tubes to allow some gas to escape through the nose and mouth. During the descent the process is reversed and the increased pressure in the external ear causes the ear drum to bulge inward. Air must be introduced through the Eustachian tubes to equalize the pressure and prevent a possible perforation of the ear drum. When you have a cold, the tubes are probably partially swollen and the partial vacuum of the middle ear tends to collapse them further. If you are successful in getting some air into the Eustachian tubes, it may take some of the cold-causing virus with it, resulting in a painfully infected middle ear. Avoid high altitude flying when you have a cold and always be cautious about flying when taking any medication.
If you do not take care of your ears you can get tinnitus. This will cause a constant ringing sound. The only relief is to mask the high frequency whine with other sounds. Taking care of your ears the way you take care of your aircraft instruments can save you from tinnitus.
What happened to this issue
Hours after sending the January issue to the printer our main computer had a major failure. While no data was lost because of religious backups it did slow down the process of producing the magazine. That interruption should have lasted only a short time. Our hardware vendor then experienced their own delays in providing the replacement part. There were alternatives, but they didn't make sense because the new component would be here in a few days. Those few days crept into a month. We are back to full speed with March soon to arrive. My apologies for this untimely delay.