A Ballooning MOT

Not many people seem to realise that a hot air balloon is a registered aircraft, exactly the same as the Boeing 747 jetting you off on your summer holiday or the whirlybird helicopters used by the country’s air ambulance services. Being a registered aircraft means that in the same way your car required an annual inspection to prove roadworthiness, a hot air balloon is required to pass an annual airworthiness inspection.

This inspection is carried out by CAA recognised Inspectors who undergo training with all the major manufacturers and then work under the umbrella of an approved maintenance organisation. And, as a result of this longwinded trail of countenance, some may argue that this level of bureaucracy oppresses an otherwise basic and simple form of aviation transport, and while suitable to our heavier than air cousins, for an elementary system of fabric and wicker it is more than unnecessary, but whether you agree or not, you just have to look at the safety record of ballooning to see that the system does work.

But what is actually involved in ballooning’s MOT. Well, with two of our balloons – Tutti Frutti (G-BYIY) and my cloudhopper (G-CEGG) in need of their annual health checks, I thought this would be perfect opportunity to explain what goes on.

I get my balloons inspected by Chris Dunkley and John Yarrow, who aside from being inspectors in their own right, also run the approved maintenance organisation – Easy Balloons. Taking my kit directly to the maintenance centre, essentially kills two birds with one stone and making life easier. I can get the inspection(s) done, safe in the knowledge that if they should, unexpectedly, find an issue (usually a worn o-ring on a hose, or a small pin-prick hole in the fabric) it can be fixed while I wait.

John Yarrow - Envelope Inspection - Easy Balloons

John and Chris work with a very simple system – John looks after the top end, Chris does the bottom. To inspect the fabric envelope part of the system, John will first start off by checking out the wires that connect it to the basket, before moving on to checking each panel for damage and weave strength, before arriving at the crown on the balloon, where the deflation system will be checked, along with the balloon’s internal rigging. With my cloudhopper being so small, it is actually possible to undertake all these checks inside, negating any effect or risk from the weather.

And while John is running around inside my semi inflated cloudhopper, Chris is stood outside in the Autumn sunshine checking over the rest of the kit. This involves, checking the gas cylinders for damage, leaks and component life. Once they’ve been checked, Chris will move on to the burner, once again checking for visible signs of damage and  leaks before moving on to test firing each and every system it contains.

Basket & Burner - Inspection - Easy Balloons

Finally with everything “ship shape and Bristol fashion” it’s on to the basket, and once again, this comprises a visual inspection of the interior and exterior woodwork for any damage, rot or warping before checking over the metal sub frame and load bearing wires to ensure they haven’t suffered since it’s last inspection. Once both Chris and John are happy that all the physical equipment is correct, and within the parameters defined by the manufacturer, they will move on to the paperwork. Checking over that everything is up to date and that any maintenance bulletins relevant to the balloon which have been issued have been complied with.

Over all, an inspection will take around 3 hours depending on the size of the balloon, and if there is any work required on it. I can honestly say, that while the last few paragraphs have made this event sound, pretty much as boring as it is, getting an inspection carried out with Chris and John is anything but. They realise that it’s a slow and monotonous task, and as a result, most people make a day of visiting them. Conscious of this, they actively look to make it better: they’ll supply you with coffee, you may even get tea, and if you want a biscuit, there is likely to be some hiding away somewhere but remember, it’s only fair to replenish the supplies you eat!

Ultimately though, they know that balloonists like to talk. We all have a tale, and when you’ve got a history and knowledge in the sport as impressive as John and Chris’ you have a mighty repertoire at your disposal. A quick look at their website (www.easyballoons.co.uk) will give you some flavour as to the diversity of interesting conversation you can guarantee to be partaking in. Just don’t mention HS2!

When it comes to getting my balloons inspected annually, my only disappointment is exactly that, it’s annually, because I could spend hours at Easy Balloons; Easily!

Safe and Happy Flying…

Posted on by 5WC in Aviation, Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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