You Need To Write An Essay About Hot Air Ballooning

Going Up in a Hot Air Balloon

by Scott Teresi
July 18, 2000

The sun was out and the weather was absolutely perfect. My parents were taking me and my sister Johanna on a balloon ride for Johanna's birthday. We met up with the balloonists and two other older guys in a shopping center parking lot, and we were all shuttled to a campground with an open grassy field to set up the balloon.

They gave us a short talk about landing and taking off and being jolted around. The balloon was filled up part way, but gusts of wind started blowing it around too much so they stopped for fifteen minutes or so and waited before trying again. It was a little turbulent on the ground for the balloon (wind above 10 mph is bad). I wasn’t nervous at all. Johanna was happy but not too energetic. Dad helped out with the balloon, and Mom and I took pictures. She gave her automatic camera to someone on the ground, she used my automatic camera, I used my SLR camera with a 28mm wide angle lens, and Dad used the video camera. We took lots of pictures and maybe an hour of videotape just before the video camera batteries died.

The takeoff was a little nerve-racking. I was worried about how we’d finally get off the ground. We’d climbed in quickly as instructed while the balloon was going up overhead, but we weren’t taking off yet for some reason. The guy running the burner (I think his name was Chet, but I’m not sure) kept putting it on (it was really loud and distracting), but the balloon was swaying back and forth and we felt like we were close to falling out of the basket. He had to make it do some “dancing” with the wind, which he says he doesn’t like to have to do. Finally he got it straight up long enough to let us go I guess, and up we went in a hurry. It was very cramped in the basket, especially with my backpack full of a couple camera lenses and a water bottle. I kept bumping into people, but I managed to snap a few shots of the takeoff area as it got smaller and we drifted away. I was stuck in the middle of the basket for a while until I finally took off my backpack and staked out a claim between my dad and the guy working the burner. I kept trying to avoid hitting the guy’s elbow. Finally I took the backpack off, and things worked best if I leaned out of the basket a bit. However, there were things to see on the other side of the balloon, so I was never still for very long. Behind us we could see the skyscraper apartments of Kent, and further out, especially when we made a short trip to 1000 feet, we could see many buildings in Cleveland, way off on the horizon. We spent most of the time about 100 feet off the ground, except when we had to go over some high tension lines, which we made sure we missed by plenty of room (you can’t see the lines, but you can see the towers). We floated over a lake and could see the reflection of the balloon in it.

The best part about ballooning is being able to see all the stuff that’s on the ground so well. I see why it’s so hard to run from a police helicopter. We approached several deer and had to scare them away with the burner. Somehow he knew when to fire the burner before we got too close to the ground. He could estimate our rate of fall, I guess. The effects of the burner (us rising up again) wouldn’t kick in until almost a half a minute later, and by then we could’ve been crashing into some trees or something! We went over a couple horse pastures and were careful with the burner not to scare them. They can get really scared. One horse started trotting away quickly and then looked back and almost sat down to look up at us, worried, and then grazed for a second and then started nervously trotting some more. It was funny to watch. Dogs went crazy. One of them ran after us. Dad told him to sit, and he stopped. We could usually spot the chase vehicle, since a road was never far away. Twice they took our picture from the ground. It was really neat waving to the people. One guy looked up from his garden for a bit and waved. Most people just stared, but some of them waved and said hello. We always shouted back, and it was easy to hear each other. Dad waved to two little kids standing in a huge driveway and said to them “that’s a lot of cement.” We went over corn and alfalfa fields and could see their relief in lengthening shadows. We flew near a buffalo farm, a little ways off. We were basically traveling by all these people down there on their farms and old country houses (we didn’t see any cities or developments), and they would stop and say hi to us. It was really neat.

We saw ducks in a pond, beautiful horses, birds flying over a lake below us, small flower beds or gardens like an oasis in a desert of green grass, old barns, tractor patterns in the fields, and countless backyards few people ever see. The first time I looked down at my watch after we took off, it was 7:56. Twenty-five minutes had passed already, and it had seemed like ten or fifteen. We only had about twenty minutes left in the air!

We could travel over road and field and forest equally well. We floated just above tree level over a forest before we landed. The canopy was like lots of bushes sometimes. We even brushed a tree once. There were old dead trees with no leaves, and pine trees which you could smell, and other trees, mostly all the same height, though sometimes there’d be an open space where a tree had fallen or there was a swampy area, and you could see into the woods a little better and often spot a deer. It was fascinating to have such a close but unique view of the forest. I’d never had that feeling before, of being just above the tops of the trees. It reminded me of what I’d imagined the top of a rainforest would be like. It was great to see so many trees so high up in the air. Climbing just one tree would be an accomplishment in itself, but this was like climbing lots of trees, and being able to somehow stand on the topmost branch and look around you at all the leaves privileged to have such a vantage point.

About that time the woods cleared, and we approached an open field, brushed the top of a tree, and braced for landing. All you had to do was turn sideways, keep your legs loose, and hold onto the supports. I was disappointed to land, but I’d gotten enough out of the ride to be happy. We touched down and the basket pretty much stopped moving, I think, but the balloon kept going, so we bounced up into the air again a few feet-whee-and then touched down again, and maybe once more before coming to an easy stop. The landing was a piece of cake, and fun too. There had been hardly any wind gusts once we’d gotten over the initial shaky takeoff. We landed on a turf farm, on perfectly mowed, soft, weedless grass.

Little did I know, the second half of the whole ballooning experience was just beginning.

The balloon guy talked on his radio to the two chase cars telling them what driveways they could use to reach him and where the home of the owner of the field probably was. A family stood a ways away watching us. We weren’t sure if we were welcomed or not. We sat in the basket with the balloon still fully inflated above us, ready to take off if someone started shouting obscenities at us. Finally a young kid probably in middle school rode up on a mountain bike and said it was okay to land there, he was a friend of the family. About then, the chase cars verified that it was okay. Dad told the kid he was on channel three news and asked him some questions about how old he is and what he’s doing on vacation. We might’ve looked intimidating with all the camera equipment, I don’t know, but he stuck around and watched us closely without saying much. (He later asked me if this was going to be on channel three, and I said no, maybe America’s Funniest Home Videos, and he grinned while I taped him.)

I climbed out of the basket to let some of the neighbor kids in, and then the balloon got lighter and we floated it to the side of the field where the chase car and trailer were. This was a great opportunity for me to run out a ways and get pictures of the whole thing, and also to run closer and videotape Johanna, Mom, and Dad and see their faces as the balloon lifted as much as five feet off the ground and floated back down again. It was a perfect perspective for camera shots. Additionally, the sun was casting a warm glow on everything, the small clouds in the sky were turning golden, the perfectly green grass was soothing, and it was generally just a real nice setting to take pictures of a colorful balloon and my family and groups of other people gathering around it. After it landed, Dad helped squeeze the air out of it. By then several families had showed up with their kids laughing and running around in a peaceful evening sort of way. It was like a small country fair or carnival, where people just gather for no reason than because they want to see this unusual thing happening and gather and talk with their friends. It was nice to look around for pictures, but the event was unfolding quickly, and I didn’t think to actually walk around and talk with any of the people. I just enjoyed being around my family and observing the balloon and taking pictures of it as it was landing and deflating. I got some nice pictures of my dad helping out, I think, and I could picture him taking a similarly active role at a fire scene or something and being a very capable member of a team. Once the balloon was packed up, things calmed down and the people dispersed unnoticed, though that boy stuck around until the very end. We rode back in a van to our car.

We had flown seven miles, but we were a long way by car. Back at the parking lot, we gathered together for some champagne. The cork flew up in the air and I caught it, just before one of the older guys did (I should’ve let him have it), but now I should be getting about seven years of good luck!

This article is about hot air balloons themselves. For the activity, see hot air ballooning. For other meanings, see hot air balloon (disambiguation) and air balloon (disambiguation)

A hot air balloon is a lighter than air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket (in some long-distance or high-altitude balloons, a capsule), which carries passengers and (usually) a source of heat, in most cases an open flame. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the colder air outside the envelope. As with all aircraft, hot air balloons cannot fly beyond the atmosphere. Unlike gas balloons, the envelope does not have to be sealed at the bottom, since the air near the bottom of the envelope is at the same pressure as the surrounding air. In modern sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric and the inlet of the balloon (closest to the burner flame) is made from a fire resistant material such as Nomex. Modern balloons have been made in all kinds of shapes, such as rocket ships and the shapes of various commercial products, though the traditional shape is used for most non-commercial, and many commercial, applications.

The hot air balloon is the first successful human-carrying flight technology. The first untethered manned hot air balloon flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes on November 21, 1783, in Paris, France,[1] in a balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers.[2] The first hot-air balloon flown in the Americas was launched from the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia on January 9, 1793 by the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard.[3] Hot air balloons that can be propelled through the air rather than simply drifting with the wind are known as thermal airships.


Main article: History of ballooning

Premodern and unmanned balloons[edit]

Main article: Sky lantern

Early unmanned hot air balloons were used in China. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, during the Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD), used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known Chinese lanterns (simplified Chinese: 孔明灯; traditional Chinese: 孔明燈).[4]

First manned flight[edit]

The French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier developed a hot air balloon in Annonay, Ardeche, France, and demonstrated it publicly on September 19, 1783, making an unmanned flight lasting 10 minutes. After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first balloon flight with humans aboard, a tethered flight, performed on or around October 15, 1783, by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier who made at least one tethered flight from the yard of the Reveillon workshop in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Later that same day, Pilatre de Rozier became the second human to ascend into the air, reaching an altitude of 26 m (85 ft), the length of the tether.[5][6] The first free flight with human passengers was made a few weeks later, on November 21, 1783.[7]King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots, but de Rozier, along with Marquis François d'Arlandes, petitioned successfully for the honor.[8][9][10] The first military use of a hot air balloon happened in 1794 during the battle of Fleurus, when the French used the balloon l'Entreprenant for observation.[11]


Modern hot air balloons, with an onboard heat source, were developed by Ed Yost, beginning during the 1950s; his work resulted in his first successful flight, on October 22, 1960.[12] The first modern hot air balloon to be made in the United Kingdom (UK) was the Bristol Belle, built in 1967. Presently, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation. Hot air balloons are able to fly to extremely high altitudes. On November 26, 2005 Vijaypat Singhania set the world altitude record for highest hot air balloon flight, reaching 21,027 m (68,986 ft). He took off from downtown Mumbai, India, and landed 240 km (150 mi) south in Panchale.[13] The previous record of 19,811 m (64,997 ft) had been set by Per Lindstrand on June 6, 1988, in Plano, Texas.

On January 15, 1991, the 'Virgin Pacific Flyer' balloon completed the longest flight in a hot air balloon when Per Lindstrand (born in Sweden, but resident in the UK) and Richard Branson of the UK flew 7,671.91 km (4,767.10 mi) from Japan to Northern Canada. With a volume of 74 thousand cubic meters (2.6 million cubic feet), the balloon envelope was the largest ever built for a hot air craft. Designed to fly in the trans-oceanic jet streams, the Pacific Flyer recorded the fastest ground speed for a manned balloon at 245 mph (394 km/h). The longest duration record was set by Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, Auguste Piccard's grandson; and Briton Brian Jones, flying in the Breitling Orbiter 3. It was the first nonstop trip around the world by balloon. The balloon left Château-d'Oex, Switzerland, on March 1, 1999, and landed at 1:02 a.m. on March 21 in the Egyptian desert 300 miles (480 km) south of Cairo. The two men exceeded distance, endurance, and time records, traveling 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes. Steve Fossett, flying solo, exceeded the record for briefest time traveling around the world on 3 July 2002 on his sixth attempt,[14] in 320 h 33 min.[15]Fedor Konyukhov flew solo round the world on his first attempt in a hybrid hot-air/helium balloon from 11 to 23 July 2016[16] for a round-the world time of 272h 11m, as of 17 September 2016[update] awaiting official confirmation as the new record.[15]


A hot air balloon for manned flight uses a single-layered, fabric gas bag (lifting "envelope"), with an opening at the bottom called the mouth or throat. Attached to the envelope is a basket, or gondola, for carrying the passengers. Mounted above the basket and centered in the mouth is the "burner", which injects a flame into the envelope, heating the air within. The heater or burner is fueled by propane, a liquefied gas stored in pressure vessels, similar to high pressure forkliftcylinders.[17][18]


Modern hot air balloons are usually made of materials such as ripstop nylon or dacron (a polyester).[19]

During the manufacturing process, the material is cut into panels and sewn together, along with structural load tapes that carry the weight of the gondola or basket. The individual sections, which extend from the throat to the crown (top) of the envelope, are known as gores or gore sections. Envelopes can have as few as 4 gores or as many as 24 or more.[20]

Envelopes often have a crown ring at their very top. This is a hoop of smooth metal, usually aluminium, and approximately 1 ft (0.30 m) in diameter. Vertical load tapes from the envelope are attached to the crown ring.

At the bottom of the envelope the vertical load tapes are sewn into loops that are connected to cables (one cable per load tape). These cables, often referred to as flying wires, are connected to the basket by carabiners.


The most common technique for sewing panels together is called the French felled, French fell, or double lap seam.[21][22][23][24] The two pieces of fabric are folded over on each other at their common edge, possibly with a load tape as well, and sewn together with two rows of parallel stitching. Other methods include a flat lap seam, in which the two pieces of fabric are held together simply with two rows of parallel stitching, and a zigzag, where parallel zigzag stitching holds a double lap of fabric.[23]


The fabric (or at least part of it, the top 1/3 for example) may be coated with a sealer, such as silicone or polyurethane, to make it impermeable to air.[25] It is often the degradation of this coating and the corresponding loss of impermeability that ends the effective life of an envelope, not weakening of the fabric itself. Heat, moisture, and mechanical wear-and-tear during set-up and pack-up are the primary causes of degradation. Once an envelope becomes too porous to fly, it may be retired and discarded or perhaps used as a 'rag bag': cold inflated and opened for children to run through. Products for recoating the fabric are becoming available commercially.[26]

Sizes and capacity[edit]

A range of envelope sizes is available. The smallest, one-person, basket-less balloons (called "Hoppers" or "Cloudhoppers") have as little as 600 m3 (21,000 cu ft) of envelope volume;[27] for a perfect sphere the radius would be around 5 m (16 ft). At the other end of the scale, balloons used by commercial sightseeing operations may be able to carry well over two dozen people, with envelope volumes of up to 17,000 m3 (600,000 cu ft).[27] The most-used size is about 2,800 m3 (99,000 cu ft), and can carry 3 to 5 people.


The top of the balloon usually has a vent of some sort, enabling the pilot to release hot air to slow an ascent, start a descent, or increase the rate of descent, usually for landing. Some hot air balloons have turning vents, which are side vents that, when opened, cause the balloon to rotate. Such vents are particularly useful for balloons with rectangular baskets, to facilitate aligning the wider side of the basket for landing.[28]

The most common type of top vent is a disk-shaped flap of fabric called a parachute vent, invented by Tracy Barnes.[29] The fabric is connected around its edge to a set of "vent lines" that converge in the center. (The arrangement of fabric and lines roughly resembles a parachute—thus the name.) These "vent lines" are themselves connected to a control line that runs to the basket. A parachute vent is opened by pulling on the control line. Once the control line is released, the pressure of the remaining hot air pushes the vent fabric back into place. A parachute vent can be opened briefly while in flight to initiate a rapid descent. (Slower descents are initiated by allowing the air in the balloon to cool naturally.) The vent is pulled open completely to collapse the balloon after landing.

An older, and presently less commonly used, style of top vent is called a "Velcro-style" vent. This too is a disk of fabric at the top of the balloon. However, rather than having a set of "vent lines" that can repeatedly open and close the vent, the vent is secured by "hook and loop" fasteners (such as Velcro) and is only opened at the end of the flight. Balloons equipped with a Velcro-style vent typically have a second "maneuvering vent" built into the side (as opposed to the top) of the balloon. Another common type of top design is the "Smart Vent," which, rather than lowering a fabric disc into the envelope as in the "parachute" type, gathers the fabric together in the center of the opening. This system can theoretically be used for in-flight maneuvering, but is more commonly used only as a rapid-deflation device for use after landing, of particular value in high winds. Other designs, such as the "pop top" and "MultiVent" systems, have also attempted to address the need for rapid deflation on landing, but the parachute top remains popular as an all-around maneuvering and deflation system.


Besides special shapes, possibly for marketing purposes, there are several variations on the traditional "inverted tear drop" shape. The simplest, often used by home builders, is a hemisphere on top of a truncated cone. More-sophisticated designs attempt to minimize the circumferential stress on the fabric, with different degrees of success depending on whether they take fabric weight and varying air density into account. This shape may be referred to as "natural".[30] Finally, some specialized balloons are designed to minimize aerodynamic drag (in the vertical direction) to improve flight performance in competitions.[31]


Baskets are commonly made of wovenwicker or rattan. These materials have proven to be sufficiently light, strong, and durable for balloon flight. Such baskets are usually rectangular or triangular in shape. They vary in size from just big enough for two people to large enough to carry thirty.[32] Larger baskets often have internal partitions for structural bracing and to compartmentalize the passengers. Small holes may be woven into the side of the basket to act as foot holds for passengers climbing in or out.[33]

Baskets may also be made of aluminium, especially a collapsible aluminium frame with a fabric skin, to reduce weight or increase portability.[34] These may be used by pilots without a ground crew or who are attempting to set altitude, duration, or distance records. Other specialty baskets include the fully enclosed gondolas used for around-the-world attempts,[35] and baskets that consist of little more than a seat for the pilot and perhaps one passenger.


The burner unit gasifies liquid propane,[36] mixes it with air, ignites the mixture, and directs the flame and exhaust into the mouth of the envelope. Burners vary in power output; each will generally produce 2 to 3 MW of heat (7 to 10 million BTUs per hour), with double, triple, or quadruple burner configurations installed where more power is needed.[37][38] The pilot actuates a burner by opening a propane valve, known as a blast valve. The valve may be spring-loaded so that it closes automatically, or it may stay open until closed by the pilot. The burner has a pilot light to ignite the propane and air mixture. The pilot light may be lit by the pilot with an external device, such as a flint striker or a lighter, or with a built-in piezo electric spark.[39]

Where more than one burner is present, the pilot can use one or more at a time depending on the desired heat output. Each burner is characterized by a metal coil of propane tubing the flame shoots through to preheat the incoming liquid propane. The burner unit may be suspended from the mouth of the envelope, or supported rigidly over the basket. The burner unit may be mounted on a gimbal to enable the pilot to aim the flame and avoid overheating the envelope fabric. A burner may have a secondary propane valve that releases propane more slowly and thereby generates a different sound. This is called a whisper burner and is used for flight over livestock to lessen the chance of spooking them. It also generates a more yellow flame and is used for night glows because it lights up the inside of the envelope better than the primary valve.

Fuel tanks[edit]

Propane fuel tanks are usually cylindrical pressure vessels made from aluminium, stainless steel, or titanium with a valve at one end to feed the burner and to refuel. They may have a fuel gauge and a pressure gauge. Common tank sizes are 10 (38), 15 (57), and 20 (76) US gallons (liters).[25] They may be intended for upright or horizontal use, and may be mounted inside or outside the basket.

The pressure necessary to force the fuel through the line to the burner may be supplied by the vapor pressure of the propane itself, if warm enough, or by the introduction of an inert gas such as nitrogen.[39] Tanks may be preheated with electrical heat tapes to produce sufficient vapor pressure for cold weather flying.[40] Warmed tanks will usually also be wrapped in an insulating blanket to preserve heat during the setup and flight.


A balloon may be outfitted with a variety of instruments to aid the pilot. These commonly include an altimeter, a rate of climb (vertical speed) indicator known as a variometer, envelope (air) temperature, and ambient (air) temperature.[41] A GPS receiver can be useful to indicate ground speed (traditional aircraft air speed indicators would be useless) and direction.

Combined mass[edit]

The combined mass of an average system can be calculated as follows:[25]

componentpoundskilogramsmass fraction
100,000 cu ft (2,800 m3) envelope250113.4
5-passenger basket14063.5
double burner5022.7
3 20-gallon (75.7-liter) fuel tanks full of propane3 × 135 = 405183.7
5 passengers5 × 150 = 750340.2
sub total1595723.5
100,000 cu ft (2,800 m3) of heated air59222686.2
total(3.76 tons) 75173409.7

using a density of 0.9486 kg/m³ for dry air heated to 210 °F (99 °C).

Theory of operation[edit]

Generating lift[edit]

Increasing the air temperature inside the envelope makes it less dense than the surrounding (ambient) air. The balloon floats because of the buoyant force exerted on it. This force is the same force that acts on objects when they are in water and is described by Archimedes' principle. The amount of lift (or buoyancy) provided by a hot air balloon depends primarily upon the difference between the temperature of the air inside the envelope and the temperature of the air outside the envelope. For most envelopes made of nylon fabric, the maximum internal temperature is limited to approximately 120 °C (250 °F).[42]

It should be noted that the melting point of nylon is significantly greater than this maximum operating temperature — about 230 °C (450 °F) — but higher temperatures cause the strength of the nylon fabric to degrade more quickly over time. With a maximum operating temperature of 120 °C (250 °F), balloon envelopes can generally be flown for between 400 and 500 hours before the fabric needs to be replaced. Many balloon pilots operate their envelopes at temperatures significantly less than the maximum to extend envelope fabric life.

The lift generated by 100,000 ft³ (2831.7 m³) of dry air heated to various temperatures may be calculated as follows:

air temperatureair densityair masslift generated
68 °F, 20 °C1.2041 kg/m³7517 lb, 3409.7 kg0 lb, 0 kg
210 °F, 99 °C0.9486 kg/m³5922 lb, 2686.2 kg1595 lb, 723.5 kg
250 °F, 120 °C0.8978 kg/m³5606 lb, 2542.4 kg1912 lb, 867.3 kg

The density of air at 20 °C, 68 °F is about 1.2 kg/m³. The total lift for a balloon of 100,000 ft³ heated to (99 °C, 210 °F) would be 1595 lb, 723.5 kg. This is just enough to generate neutral buoyancy for the total system mass (not including the heated air trapped in the envelope, of course) stated in the previous section. Liftoff would require a slightly greater temperature, depending on the desired rate of climb. In reality, the air contained in the envelope is not all the same temperature, as the accompanying thermal image shows, and so these calculations are based on averages.

For typical atmospheric conditions (20 °C, 68 °F), a hot air balloon heated to (99 °C, 210 °F) requires about 3.91 m³ of envelope volume to lift 1 kilogram (62.5 ft³/lb). The precise amount of lift provided depends not only upon the internal temperature mentioned above, but the external temperature, altitude above sea level, and humidity of the air surrounding. On a warm day, a balloon cannot lift as much as on a cool day, because the temperature required for launch will exceed the maximum sustainable for nylon envelope fabric. Also, in the lower atmosphere, the lift provided by a hot air balloon decreases about 3% for each 1,000 meters (1% per 1,000 ft) of altitude gained.[43]


Standard hot air balloons are known as Montgolfier balloons and rely solely on the buoyancy of hot air provided by the burner and contained by the envelope.[44] This style of balloon was developed by the Montgolfier brothers, and had its first public demonstration on 4 June 1783 with an unmanned flight lasting 10 minutes, followed later that year with manned flights.[45]


The 1785 Rozière balloon, a type of hybrid balloon, named after its creator, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, has a separate cell for a lighter than air gas (typically helium,) as well as a cone below for hot air (as is used in a hot air balloon) to heat the helium at night. Hydrogen gas was used in the very early stages of development but was quickly abandoned due to the obvious danger of introducing an open flame near the gas. All modern Roziere balloons now use helium as a lifting gas.[46]


Solar balloons are hot air balloons that use just solar energy captured by a dark envelope to heat the air inside.[47]

Safety equipment[edit]

To help ensure the safety of pilot and passengers, a hot air balloon may carry several pieces of safety equipment.

In the basket[edit]

To relight the burner if the pilot light goes out and the optional piezo ignition fails, the pilot should have ready access to a means of backup ignition, such as a flint spark lighter. Many systems, especially those that carry passengers, have completely duplicate fuel and burner systems: two fuel tanks, connected to two separate hoses, which feed two distinct burners. This enables a safe landing in the case of a blockage somewhere in one system or if a system must be disabled because of a fuel leak.

A fire extinguisher suitable for extinguishing propane fires is useful. Most balloons carry a 1 or 2  kg AB:E type fire extinguisher.

A handling or drop line is mandatory safety equipment in many countries. This is a rope or webbing of 20–30 meters in length attached to the balloon basket with a quick release connection at one end. In very calm winds the balloon pilot can throw the handling line from the balloon so that the ground crew can guide the balloon safely away from obstructions on the ground.

For commercial passenger balloons, a pilot restraint harness is mandatory in some countries. This consists of a hip belt and a webbing line that together allow for some movement while preventing the pilot from being ejected from the basket during a hard landing.

Further safety equipment may include a first-aid kit, a fire blanket and a strong rescue knife.

On the occupants[edit]

At a minimum, the pilot should wear leather or flame-retardant fiber (such as nomex) gloves, so that they may shut off a gas valve in the case of a leak, even if there is a flame present; quick action in this regard can turn a potential catastrophe into a mere inconvenience. The pilot should additionally wear flame-resistant clothing covering their arms and legs; either natural fiber, such as cotton, linen, hemp, or wool, or engineered flame-retardant fiber, such as nomex, is acceptable in this capacity. Most engineered fibers (with the exception of rayon, which is also safe to wear) are thermoplastic; many are also hydrocarbons. This makes such fabrics very much unsuitable to wear near high temperatures, since non-flame-retardant thermoplastics will melt onto the wearer, and most hydrocarbons, whether fibrous or not, are suitable to use as fuels. Natural fiber will singe rather than melt or burn readily, and flame-retardant fiber generally has a very high melting point and is intrinsically non-flammable. Many pilots also advise their passengers to wear similar protective clothing that covers their arms and legs, as well as strong shoes or boots that offer good ankle support. Finally, some balloon systems, especially those that hang the burner from the envelope instead of supporting it rigidly from the basket, require the use of helmets by the pilot and passengers.

On the ground crew[edit]

The ground crew should wear gloves whenever there is a possibility of handling ropes or lines. The mass and exposed surface to air movement of a medium-sized balloon is sufficient to cause rope friction burns to the hands of anyone trying to stop or prevent movement. The ground crew should also wear sturdy shoes and at least long pants in case of the need to access a landing or landed balloon in rough or overgrown terrain.

Maintenance and repair[edit]

As with aircraft, hot air balloons require regular maintenance to remain airworthy. As aircraft made of fabric and that lack direct horizontal control, hot air balloons may occasionally require repairs to rips or snags. While some operations, such as cleaning and drying, may be performed by the owner or pilot, other operations, such as sewing, must be performed by a qualified repair technician and recorded in the balloon's maintenance log book.


To ensure long life and safe operation, the envelope should be kept clean and dry. This prevents mold and mildew from forming on the fabric and abrasion from occurring during packing, transport, and unpacking due to contact with foreign particles. In the event of a landing in a wet (because of precipitation or early morning or late evening dew) or muddy location (farmer's field), the envelope should be cleaned and laid out or hung to dry.

The burner and fuel system must also be kept clean to ensure safe operation on demand. Damaged fuel hoses need to be replaced. Stuck or leaky valves must be repaired or replaced. The wicker basket may require occasional refinishing or repair. The skids on its bottom may require occasional replacement.

Balloons in most parts of the world are maintained in accordance with a fixed manufacturer's maintenance schedule that includes regular (100 flight hours or 12 month) inspections, in addition to maintenance work to correct any damage. In Australia, balloons used for carrying commercial passengers must be inspected and maintained by approved workshops.[48]


In the case of a snag, burn, or rip in the envelope fabric, a patch may be applied or the affected panel completely replaced. Patches may be held in place with glue, tape, stitching, or a combination of these techniques. Replacing an entire panel requires the stitching around the old panel to be removed, and a new panel to be sewn in with the appropriate technique, thread, and stitch pattern.


Depending on the size of the balloon, location, and intended use, hot air balloons and their pilots need to comply with a variety of regulations.


As with other aircraft in the USA, balloons must be registered (have an N-number), have an airworthiness certificate, and pass annual inspections. Balloons below a certain size (empty weight of less than 155 pounds or 70 kg including envelope, basket, burners and empty fuel tanks) can be used as an ultralight aircraft.


In Australia[edit]

In Australia, private balloon pilots are managed by the Australian Ballooning Federation[49] and typically become members of regional hot air ballooning clubs. Commercial operations carrying fare paying passengers or charging for promotional flights must operate under an Air Operators Certificate from the Australian Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA) with a nominated Chief Pilot. Pilots must have different degrees of experience before they are allowed to progress to larger balloons. Hot air balloons must be registered aircraft with CASA and are subject to regular airworthiness checks by authorised personnel.[50]

In the UK[edit]

In the UK, the person in command must hold a valid Private Pilot's Licence issued by the Civil Aviation Authority specifically for ballooning; this is known as the PPL(B). There are two types of commercial balloon licences: CPL(B) Restricted and CPL(B) (Full). The CPL(B) Restricted is required if the pilot is undertaking work for a sponsor or being paid by an external agent to operate a balloon. The pilot can fly a sponsored balloon with everything paid for with a PPL unless asked to attend any event. Then a CPL(B) Restricted is required. The CPL(B) is required if the pilot is flying passengers for money. The balloon then needs a transport category C of A (certificate of air worthiness). If the pilot is only flying sponsor's guests, and not charging money for flying other passengers, then the pilot is exempted from holding an AOC (air operator's certificate) though a copy of it is required.[clarification needed] For passenger flying the balloon also requires a maintenance log.

In the United States[edit]

In the United States, a pilot of a hot air balloon must have a pilot certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and it must carry the rating of "Lighter-than-air free balloon", and unless the pilot is also qualified to fly gas balloons, will also carry this limitation: "Limited to hot air balloons with airborne heater". A pilot does not need a license to fly an ultralight aircraft, but training is highly advised, and some hot air balloons meet the criteria.

To carry paying passengers for hire (and attend some balloon festivals), a pilot must have a commercial pilot certificate. Commercial hot air balloon pilots may also act as hot air balloon flight instructors. While most balloon pilots fly for the pure joy of floating through the air, many are able to make a living as a professional balloon pilot. Some professional pilots fly commercial passenger sightseeing flights, while others fly corporate advertising balloons.[51]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

Further information: History of ballooning § Notable accidents

  • 1989 Alice Springs hot air balloon crash: On 4 13 August 1989, two hot air balloons collided at Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, causing one to fall, killing all 13 people on board.
  • 2011 Somerset hot air balloon crash: On 1 January 2011, a hot air balloon attempting a high-altitude flight crashed at Pratten's Bowls Club in Westfield, Somerset, near Bath, England, killing both people on board.
  • 2012 Carterton hot air balloon crash: On 7 January 2012, a hot air balloon collided with a power line, caught fire and crashed at Carterton, North Island, New Zealand, killing all 11 people on board.
  • 2012 Ljubljana Marshes hot air balloon crash: On 23 August 2012, a storm blew a hot air balloon to the ground, causing it to catch fire on impact near Ljubljana, Slovenia. The crash killed 6 of the 32 people on board, and injured the other 26.
  • 2013 Luxor hot air balloon crash: On 26 February 2013, a hot air balloon carrying foreign tourists ignited and crashed near the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt, killing 19 of the 21 people on board, making it the deadliest balloon accident in history.[52]
  • 2016 Lockhart hot air balloon crash: On 30 July 2016, a hot air balloon carrying 16 people caught fire and crashed near Lockhart, Texas. There were no survivors.


] The largest manufacturer of hot air balloons in the world is Cameron Balloons company of Bristol, England, which also owns Lindstrand Balloons of Oswestry, England. Cameron Balloons, Lindstrand Balloons and another English balloon manufacturing company, Thunder and Colt (since acquired by Cameron), have been innovators and developers of special shaped balloons. These hot air balloons use the same principle of lift as conventional inverted teardrop shaped balloons but often sections of the special balloon envelope shape do not contribute to the balloon's ability to stay aloft.

The second largest manufacturer of hot air balloons in the world is Ultramagic company, based in Spain, which produces from 80 to 120 balloons per year. Ultramagic can produce very large balloons, such as the N-500 that accommodates as many as 27 persons in the basket, and has also produced many balloons with special shapes, as well as cold-air inflatables.

In the USA Aerostar International, Inc. of Sioux Falls, South Dakota was North America's largest balloon manufacturer and a close second in world manufacturing before ceasing to build balloons in January 2007. The oldest U.S. certified manufacture is now Adams Balloons out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Firefly Balloons, formerly The Balloon Works, is a manufacturer of hot-air balloons in Statesville, North Carolina. Another manufacturer is Head Balloons, Inc. of Helen, Georgia.

The major manufacturers in Canada are Sundance Balloons and Fantasy Sky Promotions. Other manufacturers include Kavanagh Balloons of Australia, Schroeder Fire Balloons of Germany, Kubicek Balloons of the Czech Republic, and LLopis Balloons of France.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Tom D. Crouch (2008). Lighter Than Air. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-9127-4. 
  2. ^"U.S. Centennial of Flight Commisstion: Early Balloon Flight in Europe". Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  3. ^Beischer, DE; Fregly, AR (January 1962). "Animals and man in space. A chronology and annotated bibliography through the year 1960"(PDF). US Naval School of Aviation Medicine. ONR TR ACR-64 (AD0272581). Retrieved 2017-07-24 – via Rubicon Foundation. 
  4. ^Deng, Yinke (2005). Ancient Chinese Inventions. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press. , cited in Joel Serrão, Dicionário de História de Portugal, Vol III. Porto: Livraria Figueirinhas, 1981, 184–85
  5. ^Glenday, Craig (2013). Guinness world records 2014. ISBN 978-1-908843-15-9. 
  6. ^Tom D. Crouch (2009). Lighter Than Air
  7. ^"U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission: Early Balloon Flight in Europe". Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  8. ^"Start-Flying: History of Balloon Flying". Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
Hot air balloon in flight
Hot air balloons shaped like bees
A hot air balloon is inflated partially with cold air from a gasoline-powered fan, before the propane burners are used for final inflation.
The parachute vent at the top of an envelope, as seen from below through the mouth.
Hot air balloon basket in flight
A burner directing a flame into the envelope.
Thermal image showing temperature variation in a hot air balloon.
A 4 meters high solar balloon floating over a meadow.
Taken from the basket, the reflection of the balloon can be seen in the lake below. Obstacles in the landscape can inhibit smooth retrieval of the balloon upon landing.
Top of balloon during inflation. Crew is securing parachute vent.
New 2017 Cameron Hot Air Balloon in flight [1]
One of the last Aerostar International, Inc. RX8 balloons.


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