How do you steer a balloon?
The short answer is that you don't! However, it isn't as uncontrolled as that might seem.
Hot air balloons simply float with the wind. Often there are layers of wind that are going in different directions or moving at different speeds. The pilot can control the balloon’s rise and fall (the altitude) by varying the amount of lift. This is done primarily by the length and frequency which they operate the burner. Because they have no propulsion, hot air balloons are not able to fly upwind or crosswind.
The pilot gets full aviation weather reports from various sources, which may include government or private services. Prior to the flight, the pilot may also release a small helium balloon to see the wind direction and speed.
After analyzing the weather reports and the actual conditions observed, the pilot will decide to fly or not. If they opt to fly, they’ll select a launch site appropriate for that flight. Taking the wind directions into account, the launch site should allow the pilot to determine their landing site.
What is the Albuquerque Box?
The “Albuquerque Box” enables pilots to ascend from the field, move with the winds at different altitudes and even back track along their original course, flying as if they were in a “box.”
Surface winds sometimes blow in a different direction from winds at higher altitude (“winds aloft”). At low level, cool air flows down hillsides and valleys, around mountains and even individual trees. At a higher level (1,000 plus feet), air moves in the direction of the general wind pattern. Wind speed generally increases higher in the atmosphere. It is possible for two balloons within 50-100 vertical feet of each other to pass in opposite directions.
View “The Science of the Albuquerque Box” by the Weather Channel on YouTube to learn more.