Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
Congratulations for becoming part of the 1% Club... You can now check off this item from your bucket list.
But, before you do...your pilot and crew could use your help packing the balloon away in preparation for the next flight. The biggest job is deflating the envelope and packing it back into the canvas bag. Your pilot and crew will work hard and will be the one's sweating the most, but, your help will be welcomed and will make the task much more manageable.
Note: Please stay in the basket! The balloon is still considered to be 'light' and could take off again should it lose your weight.
If you have just landed, you have already been greeted by your crew chief. Hopefully he has already obtained permission from the landowner (our new best friend!) to land and pack up the balloon on their property. The pilot and crew will discuss positioning to ensure a safe deflation of the balloon. They will need plenty of space to lay the envelope down on void of any sharp obstacles that could damage the fabric.
The pilot will begin asking you to exit the aircraft one-by-one. When it's your turn, don't just climb out and walk away - they will need you to exit and rest your elbows on the side of the basket to provide some weight. All the while, the balloon is cooling off, just one person can provide the balloon enough incentive to lift off again. The pilot will provide the needed instructions. As you are exiting the balloon, the pilot is once again performing a visual safety check of various items within the basket. He's also looking up into the envelope and inspecting the fabric for small holes or tangled ropes. Again, safety is priority number one!
Once all passengers have exited the balloon and are safely away from the balloon, the pilot and crew will begin the deflation process by opening the parachute top and venting all of the hot air out of the top. Meanwhile, the crew chief will use the crown line to physically pull the envelope down, out and away from the basket. This will ensure the fabric doesn't get caught on the sharp wicker and get torn and will allow easier access to "squeeze" the remaining hot air out.
This is where you can help!
Once the balloon is on its side, the envelope will still have a great deal of hot air trapped inside. It's gotta go and the best way to get it out is to squeeze it out. There is a tool called a "squeezer" that is used - essentially a piece of stainless-steel tubing bent like a paper clip. The fabric is stuffed through the center and, with a person on either side, push or pull the squeezer from basket to the top (where your crew chief is). This is much better than doing it by hand and your assistance is greatly appreciated! When complete, all of the fabric will be nicely oriented in a straight line extending from the basket. Good job!
See all of that fabric? It's gotta go back in the big canvas bag...one way or another, it's must go back in. And, yes....it will fit.
Your crew will ask for a few more volunteers to simply hold the canvas bag open so they can stuff the fabric back in. Everyone does this a little bit differently, but, listen to your crew for direction. If standing at the basket and looking up the length of the envelope, I like to have the bag on the left side. I'll ask you to hold the bag open at the equator of the envelope - the fattest part of the balloon - or about half-way between the top and bottom. I will then bring the top of the envelope to you and begin stuffing armful of fabric at a time. No, we don't need to fold it, we don't need to iron it, and we don't need to roll it. I'll continue stuffing until I have no more to stuff - we'll then drag the bag down about 10-20 feet and continue the process and repeat until we're to the basket.
Go ahead and take a break. You've earned it... You can sit on the canvas bag (provided your crew doesn't mind). It will actually help expel the remaining air out of the envelope and make more room for the last 10 feet of fabric - the parts connected to the basket. This also makes for a good photo opportunity!
Once all the fabric is packed away, its time to disassemble the basket. Off come the burner frame and support arms to be put away - we have special bags for each.
Whether the crew has a pick-up truck, a flatbed trailer, or an enclosed trailer, the basket, envelope, and burners must be packed up for the ride home and still have enough space for you, our passengers. We use an 8-passenger SUV and an enclosed trailer. We pack the envelope bag in first then the basket. Again, if you'd like to help, that would be wonderful!
We'll maneuver the trailer right up to the bag for packing. Grabbing a few handles on the bag, we like to 'flip and roll' it in. This makes it easier on all of us.
Next, the basket will be set up on a narrow side and trailer backed up under it. We, then, lower the basket which will put an edge on the trailer eliminating the need to lift the full weight of the basket for loading. Again, working smarter, not harder!
Load up! We're ready to go back to the launch site and depending on your winds aloft today, that could be a 10 minute trip or a 30 minute trip!
On your way back, hopefully your pilot will talk to you about the history of ballooning and tell you about the balloon which you flew in today. Some pilots use an iPad while flying that provides a moving map. This allows him to provide real-time location details to the crew. It also provides some great statistics about the flight - MAX Altitude, MAX Speed, path of flight, etc... Be sure to ask about it if he doesn't already share this!