Jun 2023
Championship Hot Air Balloon Flying – Any Agricultural related similarities?
Jun 2023
Championship Hot Air Balloon Flying – Any Agricultural related similarities?
Hot Air Ballooning Flying

Written by:  Glen Brayshaw |Farm Business Consultant & Grain Marketing Advisor | 0437 704 613



Recently I had the opportunity to assist a team at the National Hot Air Ballooning Championships held in Northam. I assisted (hindered?) with navigation (running a very helpful but stupid computer). It is a little bit of a
stretch, but there are some similarities between competitive flying and farm decision-making with constantly changing variables.

‘Trying to make stressful decisions at non-stressful times’.

I had a conversation with a pilot who, surprisingly, was quoting me from the last two championships about what I talk about with farmers when consulting and applying this to his balloon flying. At least the description of what he attempted to do each flight.

We all know what we want the end result to look like, but it is the 1,000 decisions on the way that are always changing that I find interesting.


Variable Nature
Both activities involve dealing with changing variables. In championship balloon flying, variables such as wind speed, direction, and temperature constantly change, requiring pilots to adapt. Similarly, agriculture is influenced by many variables such as weather conditions, with rainfall being the biggest variable, fertiliser requirement vs prices, weed, insect and disease pressures, commodity market fluctuations, etc. Farmers must continuously adjust their decisions and strategies to optimise their agricultural practices.


Decision Flexibility
Hot air ballooning and farming require flexibility in decision-making. Balloon pilots must make real-time decisions during flights, such as adjusting altitude for different winds going in different directions or finding suitable landing spots based on changing wind patterns and other factors. Similarly, agricultural decision-making involves the flexibility to respond to unforeseen circumstances, such as unexpected weather events or disease outbreaks, and to adapt farming practices accordingly.


Risk Assessment
In hot air ballooning and farming, risk assessment plays a crucial role. Championship balloon flying involves assessing risks associated with weather conditions, potential obstacles, and the safety of flight operations. Similarly, agricultural decision-making requires farmers to evaluate risks related to crop diseases, pests, climate variability, market volatility, and financial investments. Evaluating and managing risks is essential in both domains to minimise adverse outcomes and maximise success.


Data Utilisation
Both activities benefit from the use of data and information. In balloon flying, pilots rely on weather forecasts, maps, and real-time data to plan and execute their flights effectively, but these do become out of date  almost instantaneously, and on-the-ground assessments and decisions need to be made. Similarly, in agriculture, farmers gather and analyse data on soil nutrition/moisture, crop performance, market trends, and pest prevalence (mice/RLEM) to make informed decisions. Collecting, interpreting, and applying relevant data is crucial for achieving optimal results in both disciplines.

Time Sensitivity
Both championship balloon flying and agricultural decision-making need to be very timely. In balloon flying, pilots must seize favourable weather conditions and make decisions promptly to maximise flight performance. Flight conditions can be vastly different once at the take-off area due to the dawn or dusk drivers of wind (the sun) or features such as hills or valleys changing the wind conditions. Similarly, in agriculture, critical time-sensitive decisions are required including, when to seed, spray for pests & diseases, spread nitrogen, etc with each potentially significantly impacting crop yields and profitability. Delayed or incorrect decisions can have adverse effects on outcomes in both scenarios.


Adaptability and Continuous Learning

Both activities necessitate adaptability and a willingness to learn and improve. Championship balloon flying demands constant adjustments and learning from previous flights to enhance piloting skills. Similarly,  agricultural decision-making requires farmers to adapt to evolving conditions, learn from previous seasons, and integrate new knowledge and technologies to optimise farming practices, think of the time between the budget and planting conditions last year and the changes increasing the state’s canola area.

Overall, while championship hot balloon flying and agricultural decision-making differ in their specific contexts, both involve dynamic environments, the need for decision-making under changing variables, risk assessment, data utilisation, time sensitivity, and continuous learning. These similarities highlight the importance of effective decision-making and adaptability in various domains, including agriculture.


The Atomy of a flight!
I think this photo of a flight is a decent demonstration of a balloon flight and trying to make decisions before take-off or under pressure.


So what has the pilot been challenged to do, and why is this hard?

The CLA is the common launch area; all the pilots have been sent here.

TSK 10 was a Pilot Declared goal – Basically, between the little circle and the bigger circle (2 & 10km), the pilot gets to pick which goal they want (the yellow numbers all over the map) – but this has to be declared before taking off. Both easy and hard as the wind conditions are generally known of, southwest’ish, but localised factors of being on a hill and being dawn changed this a lot.

TSK 11 was fairly easy. Get close to one of those three targets (giant X on the ground to throw a beanbag at or log a GPS point, whichever is closer is measured).

But between TSK 10 and 11, you must declare where you are going for TSK 12, which had to be a 4:4 intersecting grid reference in a GPS logger. Again, easy enough, but not easy while flying, and it helps to wreck your flying on TSK11. Pre-flight, I had put in 3 options and deleted two while flying.

So, TSK 12 is whatever you declared earlier.

But between TSK 11 and TSK 12, you have to declare your TSK 13 goal in the gps logger, any yellow number. In this instance, admittedly we missed.

So how did we go on this day? Well, fair to say, our equipment (balloon) would compare to a 1990’s Stieger and Flexicoil bar and bin. It does the job, and we got a few points, but those with a Quadtrac or 9RX with a DBS/Equaliser/Morris bar and bin (sleek racing balloon) had invested heavily but got a good return on investment!

The Women’s Worlds Hot Air Ballooning Championships is to be held in Northam in September. Hopefully, the season plays nicely, the canola is flowering and we have all made the right seasonal decisions.

Oh, and one last pretty balloon photo.



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