Balloon strikes

I don’t know about everyone else, but I have had an amazingly large number of sightings of balloons while in flight. I’m talking about the toy variety, not the Goodyear variety. Just in the last 3 years or so, I’ve probably seen 3 or 4. I’ve spotted both the conventional rubber variety and the mylar ones. I’ve zoomed past some that missed by no more than 50 feet or so. Heck, you have to be pretty close to even spot something that small. Most of these encounters have been over the LA basin.

There’s a lot of air up there, and a balloon is a pretty tiny thing. It seems like it would be a once in a lifetime event to encounter one in flight. Has anyone else noticed what seems to be a vertiable balloon barrage up there?

A couple of weeks ago when I was practicing approaches with my CFI here in cma, the first thing we saw after popping out of a cloud 20 feet to our left were 2 ballons-the happy b-day party type!!

It was quite a sight.


Hey Gordon: I’ve noticed a few in flight, usually when flying to or near a street fair or festival of some sort. I’ve also seen a cluster fly by when in an 727 on approach to Atlanta. In my experience, they are usually visible long before they are a hazard.

As far as remote risks, I worry more about what the the smoke from fires does inside my engine and picking up pebbles with my prop while on the ground. Of course, if we look, we can always find something to worry about. Just don’t complain to loudly, If the FAA hears you, they will issue TFRs for all street fairs, festivals, etc.!

Interestingly, I have heard that the Chinese used to launch a barrage of WX balloons to try top shoot down the SR71. Never worked.

Yes!! I had a mylar one, in the area where ATC was calling out a 737 5 miles away. Amazing how similar a mylar balloon and distant 737 look. Biggest scare of my 622 hours!


I buzzed past the mylar variety in a Cessna Hawk XP at 11,000 ft about ten years ago. It was on Valentine’s day. I caught it out of the corner of my eye and it got my attention until I made a positive ID.

The ultimate balloon story.

Can you imagine seeing this guy from the cockpit of your airplane? Only in LA.

If you don’t believe it, or hunger for more details, click here.

Balloons aren’t that uncommon over the LA Basin. For some reason they seem to be in the shape of a mouse’s head! I always feel sad when I see one, since I’m thinking about the poor child at Disneyland who lost their grip on the balloon’s string…

Some rather more ominous balloons appeared over the West Coast in 1944 and 1945. For details, here and click on “Balloon Bomber.”

Andy - I know the feeling. I have had a couple of balloons that I thought were traffic, and have even taken evasive action just to realize finally that I was fooled. You come up on them so fast, and you fully expect that anything you sight in the air has to be an airplane!

I have had a narrow miss with a mylar balloon–50 feet away or so, at 3500 feet over San Jose. They come up so fast and are very small. Probably would be relatively little damage except if there were a direct hit on the prop. I hate to think what one of those would do when ingested into an airliner’s turbofan!

Actually jet engines can suck up some stuff with little damage. They throw dead chickens into them to test them and walnut shells to clean them. I don’t think a balloon would do much.

I remember a funny but perhaps apocryphal story about airliner testing.

British Aerospace apparently borrowed a cannon that the FAA used shoot chickens into the windshields and engines at up to 250mph for certification testing. BA tried it out on their newest, improved product and were shocked when the chicken went THRU the windshield, seats and back wall of the cockpit! In a panic they sent all their data to the FAA asking for advice.

After a few days, the message came back, “Thaw the chicken first!”


AMAZING, couldnt stop laughing !!

Keep it up Gordon!!