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What are the risks to a balloon that enters IMC conditions? Mid-air collision with other IFR traffic seems obvious. What are the other risks? It seems like losing control because of losing track of what direction is "up" is unlikely compared to an airplane or helicopter.

I assume most balloon pilots have GPS and a map that lets them track the elevation of the terrain under where they are (and where they are headed) and avoid some hazardous places to end up (middle of a substation comes to mind).

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    $\begingroup$ "It seems like losing control because of losing track of what direction is "up" is unlikely compared to an airplane or helicopter." -- right, thanks to buoyancy $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 4 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ Of course the use of a GPS in a balloon can tell you what's ahead, but if you can't avoid an obstacle/terrain by going up (or down perhaps??) then you're going to hit it. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveGremlin But that would be a general hazard to balloon flight, not specific to IMC, right? $\endgroup$
    – Azendale
    Commented Feb 8 at 15:25

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Incidents in NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System mention sudden low-level fog surprising pilots for various reasons. Because nearby terrain is not visible, the risk then is not finding a safe landing area before fuel exhaustion (for a hot air balloon, not a much rarer lighter-than-air craft). That of course risks damage to the vehicle, its occupants, and whatever it lands on.

As you guessed, these reports mention using GPS, a map (or familiarity with the local terrain), and communication with people on land, to navigate to a safe landing area.

http://www.37000feet.com/report/289605/Hot-air-balloon-flight-VFR-in-IMC

http://www.37000feet.com/report/338771/hot-air-balloon-pilot-took-off-in-IMC-conditions-then-climbed

http://www.37000feet.com/report/408264/Hot-air-balloon-pilot-landed-in-IMC-conditions-caused-by-fog

http://www.37000feet.com/report/910306/Hot-air-balloon-pilot-reports-entering-IMC-inadvertently-shortly-after-takeoff-and

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    $\begingroup$ Obviously if you are not short on fuel you could just go up through the fog / cloud till you break out and then let the wind carry you to a safer location where the ground is visible -- since knowing "which was is up" is not really an issue in a buoyance-based aircraft $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 4 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Disorientation and spiral dive would be quite a feat, yes! But fuel reserve was mentioned in at least one of those reports. And the wind might carry you to a less safe location. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5 at 5:33
  • $\begingroup$ "the wind might carry you to a less safe location" isn't that a hazard inherent in all balloon flights? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 5 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Of course! "Less safe location" only to counter the previous comment's "safer location." $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5 at 16:51

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