Dear Ace: Can hot air balloons land anywhere they please? We had one land on our field last Friday and it scared my dairy goats silly! When I arrived to see what was going on and ask if they had bothered to get permission, they said, “Oh yes, we have permission.” Well, I don’t know from whom, because it certainly wasn’t us! When I went to check on my goats, they were shaking like leaves about as far from the balloon as they could get. It took two days for them to get back on their feed schedule, and return to their barn! What rights do landowners have?!—Billy G. Gruff
Good question, Billy. It’s the Feds, baby, the Feds. The Federal Aviation Administration writes up the dos and don’ts for hot air balloons. They’re pretty lax.
According to Rick Behr, who’s been piloting the two Boar’s Head balloons for going on 25 years, ballooners can land their crafts pretty much in any pasture they fancy, provided they have permission. He’s been around so long that Behr knows where he’s welcome and where he’s not. He says he sticks to the cow fields where he knows it’s O.K. for a balloon to touch down.
Not that a pilot can always control where a balloon lands, Billy. He’s got vertical movement under control, but the pilot is at the mercy of the wind when it comes to side-to-side motion. So, as the wind blows a hot air balloon willy-nilly across farmland, down on the ground a van tracks the balloon’s movement. When it’s time to land, the van crew races up to the house on the property to get on-the-spot permission to touch down. If the balloon lands before permission is granted, the ballooners try to get post-landing permission.
“Most of the time people are fine with it,” says Behr. However, if the landowners aren’t so pleased with having a balloon on their property, Behr says, the best bet is to go back up, up and away in their beautiful balloon and try to land down the road.
So, like you, Ace can’t imagine who gave those errant ballooners permission to land in your field if you didn’t, Billy. You were just the unlucky victim of irresponsible ballooners. Ace recommends if it happens again that you pants ’em.