Why aren't the balloons flying/inflating?
You know how there are lots of sports and activities that can persevere in less than ideal situations? Well unfortunately ballooning is not one of those, and there are a lot of things that can affect the launches/events. We understand that it's very disappointing to come to a launch and to have it canceled and believe us, we're just as disappointed. The pilots want to fly—they didn’t come to Morgantown to buy T-shirts! However, safety is our top priority and we always let our pilots have the final say on whether they think it's safe to fly.
The balloon launches/NightGlow events are usually canceled for one of the following reasons: weather, visibility, wind, or wind direction. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes regulations on the visibility of flying. The first big one is weather, which ties into a lot of the other reasons. The balloons don't fly in rain, and even a lot of moisture from the night before can be an issue. If the balloon envelopes get wet, they need to be flown in dry conditions or stretched out to dry. It's basically the same principle as a tent or sleeping bag; if you put it away wet, it gets moldy and it's bad for the fabric. A little dew in the morning isn't an issue because the burners and fans will dry it off, but a lot of water is a problem. Visibility goes along with the weather because ultimately, it's essential to be able to see. Especially when you're traveling in an air-filled fabric pocket that doesn't steer on its own. Fall mornings in WV are usually accompanied by fog, so if you see us waiting around on the launch site and it's foggy, we're probably just waiting for the fog to clear a little bit. When pilots are flying in fog, they can’t see, which is very unsafe. Usually the fog burns off and, barring any other problems, we'll then get ready to launch.
The second big issue, and possibly the most important, is wind. If the wind speed is faster the 13 miles per hour at the launch site level, the balloons are unable to take off. This is the first speed we look at for launches, but we also have to take into account the wind speed above ground level. Each layer of air as the balloons go up will often have a different wind speed and direction so we take all of this into account. If it seems ok on the ground and the balloons aren't going anywhere, its might be because the upper layers have wind issues. Tethering balloons, like we do for NightGlow, necessitates even less wind than launches. Because the balloons are stationary, they can get blown around and higher winds have the potential to cause damage. The best way to gauge the longevity of a tether is to watch the balloons. If they seem to be upright and fairly stationary then the winds are ok, but if the balloons start swaying or tilting to the side, the winds are picking up and the tether is likely to end sooner rather than later. Balloons bumping into each other can cause damage to themselves or the balloons beside them and our pilots obviously don't want to risk the damage. Generally, balloons will not fly when the winds exceed ten miles per hour. The most difficult thing for balloon spectators to understand is when it is a very clear fall day, but it is too windy for balloons to fly.
The last major thing that can affect the launches, is wind direction. You know the old phrase "what goes up, must come down"? Well, landing is an important part of balloon launches and flying in West Virginia occasionally creates a challenge. When the pilots prepare for launch, they also look at which way the wind is blowing and at the available landing places along that path. If the wind is going towards a direction with limited landing spots (for example Cooper's Rock), the Balloonmeister will close the field to launches. Usually Cooper's Rock is the only place that causes a big problem because it's 25 miles of trees - not ideal for landing balloons - but other directions can occasionally affect it.
These are the basic factors we use to decide if a launch is going ahead as planned. You can use these as a guide but also remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We post updates on launch delays and cancellations as son as we can!
How much do balloon rides cost?
At this time, we do not have rides available for purchase. When we had a full festival, it was much easier to coordinate paid riders but with the new format and the launches leaving from the airport, it makes it much more complicated.
How much does a balloon cost?
Balloon prices are similar to cars. A basic, low cost balloon system will cost about $18,000 and with extra components such as more durable fabric, leather trim on the basket, stainless steel tanks over aluminum tanks, turning vents, etc., the price can be as high as $50,000. In addition, you will need some method to transport it (chase vehicle), inflation fan, and aviation radios.
When is the full festival coming back?
Our original festival grounds have been built up with lights etc. and we are no longer able to launch balloons from there. We've been looking for another area that's large enough and safe for balloons but so far, we haven't been able to find a good option. We'll continue to look and in the meantime, we hope you enjoy the balloon launches over Morgantown!
How do balloons steer?
Balloons don't have a steering wheel or anyway to reliably turn or steer. Some balloons have vents that can spin a balloon but they still don't really steer. Different layers of air have different wind currents, directions and speeds. So, balloons can change directions by going up or down to catch different winds moving in different directions. A lot of times, pilots will watch other balloons to help them see how high or low they need to go for a left or right turn. Pilots also watch for wind directions on the ground by observing the direction of flags or smoke.
How much do the balloons weigh?
Although the balloons look light and the envelops are very thin, they are also very heavy. The average balloon system - basket, envelope, fuel tanks and fuel - can weigh anywhere from 400-700lbs. Special shape balloons can weigh even more! This is part of the reason why every balloon needs a crew of several people to inflate and pack up the balloon.
What time does ....... start/what is the schedule for the weekend?
You can check out Schedule of Events for approximate start times for our events. Please keep in mind that ballooning is unpredictable and therefore, so are our start times. We expect our launches to begin at around 8am and 4pm but realistically it can be 30-40 minutes late by the time we hold a weather briefing, wait for fog to burn off, or wait for winds to change. NightGlow is the same and 6:30pm is the time that we expect everyone to be ready for synchronized glow but this could certainly change and some balloons will inflate before this time.
Where can we view the balloon launches from?
Like last year, all of our launches will be from the Morgantown Airport beside the runway near the Mileground. Spectators are welcome to watch anywhere along the fence. Also, we know what everyone tends to get a little creative with parking, but please remember to keep clear of our entrance point and please make way for balloon chase vehicles. Our staff will be controlling the gate so please work with them to help keep these areas clear!
Do you need a license to fly a balloon?
Yes, a balloon is an aircraft, and as such a pilot and balloon must meet the standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Technically, the FAA does not issue a pilot license, but they issue pilot certificates. Two kinds of certificates are issued for balloons: Private and Commercial. A private pilot can not charge or receive any compensation by passengers. A commercial Pilot may charge for flying services, including the display of advertising on the balloon envelope. All of the pilots at this event are commercial pilots. The FAA requires that all pilots take a flight proficiency flight with a flight instructor every two years.
Are balloons required to be inspected?
Yes. The Federal Aviation Administration requires all aircraft of US registry to be inspected every year, or every 100 hours of flight time, whichever comes first. This is done at an approved FAA repair station. So you can imagine how much time the commercial jets are in the repair station getting inspected as they reach the 100 hours of flight time quite quickly.