Everybody should answer the calling at least once to jump from a balloon…
Jumping from a hot air balloon is truly an incredible skydive. It's very different to any other. Many things that make it amazing – the stillness, peace, silence, visuals, friends in the same basket, feeling completely different nerves from usual, trying something new!
But for all of this to happen in a safe and controlled manner, as with any other jump, it is vital to have a plan…
A balloon jump is different. Firstly, because you probably won’t land in a place assigned as a drop zone. This has a great chance of becoming something like a ‘bad spot’, so this is the first point you should take to heart. That is why it’s recommended only for B license upwards. You should be very familiar with the canopy you will jump – this is not the place to test your new high-performance wing!
When you plan the balloon jump, you need to start by selecting the place and the balloon pilot. A balloon is classified as an ‘Aircraft’, they have license plates and the pilots must have licenses. So, when you choose the place make sure it is well regulated and with a good reputation, read reviews. Your experience will not start well if you deal with a ‘Mickey Mouse’ organization! The pilot must be experienced in dropping skydivers, and with the right knowledge because there are things they must know and calculate, that are very different from a normal everyday pleasure flight.
It would also be smart to think if something went wrong, what you might have to do. Have a plan established in case someone is hurt. Being prepared for the worst prevents you from making poor decisions under the pressure of an accident. Make sure you have ground support on landing, a communication plan and are coordinating with other jumpers.
It is a good idea that once you select your location, you look at an aerial map – or, even better, Google Earth – of the take-off area and the surroundings. This is for two reasons:
With this information you will already have a clear idea of your flight plan and should not have any big surprises.
The truth is that balloon pilots always fly in their local area and generally know the conditions well. But I never like to depend on others, so I prefer to familiarize myself with the area, ideally.
Think first of what canopy you will use, is it yours? Have you jumped it at least 20 times? This jump requires precise canopy control; remember your landing options may be small, tight areas. You may prefer to jump a larger canopy than usual, in which case you should make familiarization jumps on it first.
Since the balloons usually take off very early due to weather conditions, arrive with plenty of time so that you have your equipment ready, checked, and can gear up without being rushed.
In addition, you should do a briefing with the pilot and other jumpers to be clear about exactly how the flight and the jump will take place. Practice with the basket on the ground, to get comfortable with the exit. Establish which side you exit (the side that is freer), how you will exit (solo, stable, backloop, 2-way, etc). If you're going to jump with a camera see if you are at risk of getting it caught on something on the basket. Everyone should be clear about the exit order, and board accordingly. (Inside the basket usually you can’t change places.) Dirtdive the exit and the boarding.
Once the jumpers are clear on the precise plan for the jump, communicate it to the balloon pilot to see if he/she agrees, or suggests a change. The pilot will have to foresee technical adjustments according to your plan. It is not the same for a solo as for a 2-way for example, in terms of displaced weight, jump height, time between each jumper, etc. Dirtdive any amendments to plan if needed.
Before boarding, gear up calmly and check that there is nothing on your equipment that could get caught (the space inside the basket can be restricted). Above all do not forget anything, once you’re airborne you won’t be able to return ;)
Once everyone agrees and is ready, the balloon team inflate it. The moment is nearly here! Approach the basket and load according to the plan. Enjoy the lift-off! That moment when you start to rise and climb away from Earth is the most exciting! Try not to move too much inside the basket, to protect your gear so it doesn’t snag.
Shortly before reaching the agreed jump altitude, do a gear check, make sure the spot is correct and that all jumpers are comfortable. Don’t be surprised if you feel nervous even though you are confident in your gear and your team – it’s perfectly normal!
When the pilot gives you the ’green light’, prepare to leave the basket according to your dirtdive. When ready to make your jump, one final check that no-one is going to snag their gear on components of the balloon. It is a good idea to make the last skydiver to exit responsible for reviewing this issue and giving the ‘ok’ for the jump. When this happens, check your altimeter, breathe and go check out what all the fuss is about. Blue skies!