Hot Air Balloon Frequently Asked Questions
How big are hot air balloons?
What are hot air balloon made out of?
How is a balloon launched?
What is Balloon Glow?
How is a balloon guided?
What instruments are used to fly a Hot Air Balloon?
What are the best conditions for balloon flights?
What makes up a balloon team or crew?
What is a balloon race?
Why don't balloons fly during midday?
How does a pilot land a balloon?
What does it take to become a licensed balloon pilot?
What about bad weather conditions?
How big are hot air balloons? back to top
Hot air balloons vary in size from 14,000 cubic feet - with at payload of one person - to 500,000 cubit feet - enough to carry 32 people. These balloon range in height from five stories to 16 stories, and they can weigh from 300 to 600 pounds.
What are hot air balloon made out of? back to top
The envelope is made of reinforced nylon fabric called rip-stop nylon or Dacron. This very light --but strong-- fabric is used because it retains its strength so tears will not "run."
How is a balloon launched? back to top
The envelope of the balloon is laid out downwind and flat on the ground. Air is blown into the balloon with a gas-powered fan. In 15 minutes, the balloon is inflated to the size of a small house. The burner is used to heat the temperature inside, causing it to rise. The flight burner is ignited when the balloon begins to reach full inflation. The burner uses propane to produce 21 billion BTUs per hour. It is mounted on top of the gondola and used to heat the air inside to a temperature higher than the outside, causing the envelope to rise. As the balloon inflates and its underside begins to leave the ground, the pilot, handling the burners puts one leg inside the basket. The crew members let go of their control lines and the envelopes rises, tilting the basked upright with the pilot inside. The balloon now stands approximately 70 feet high and 55 feet wide. Still it is not sufficiently buoyant to lift the basket so passengers are able to climb aboard. Ready to lift off, the pilot opens the burner valve and gradually builds enough buoyancy for the flight to begin.
What is a Balloon Glow? back to top
The Balloon Glow is a spectator's delight. Balloon Glow is the art of firing a hot air balloon's burner to illuminate the balloon while the balloon itself is tethered. It is a breathtaking sight and a photographer's delight.
How is a balloon guided? back to top
With the wind determining the direction of flight, the pilot uses different air currents at different altitudes to maneuver the balloon. Balloon speed is determined by the wind speed at different locations.
What instruments are used to fly a Hot Air Balloon? back to top
The licensed pilot will use an altimeter, a rate-of-climb indicator, a thermometer for inside the envelope, a compass and a map. Also, a radio is on board to contact the ground crew and other aircraft, as well as the local airport control tower if necessary.
What are the best conditions for balloon flights? back to top
Balloons fly best in cool weather with wind speeds less than seven knots. The best time for flights are up to three hours after sunrise and up to three hours before sunset.
What makes up a balloon team or crew? back to top
Behind every balloon pilot is a capable balloon crew. Ballooning is a team sport and every pilot needs the help of four to six well-trained crew members in the launch and landing of his balloon. Some special shape balloons need up to 15 on their crew. Before inflation and launch each crew member is assigned a job by the pilot or crew chief. One person operates the fan and two others work the " throat." One or two are at the "crown," maintaining a constant pull on the line to control the speed of the envelope as it rises. An efficient crew can inflate a balloon in less than 10 minutes. After lift-off, the launch crew becomes the recovery crew. Because the craft lacks directional control, the crew must follow the craft in the direction the wind takes it. The crew attempts to stay as close as roads permit to anticipate the pilot's landing site. When a site is selected, one person asks permission to go on the landowners property. Crew members are also responsible for crowd control. Crew members may use a rope dropped by the pilot to "walk" the balloon to an area where a safe landing can take place. During deflation, crew members "milk" the balloon, squeezing out air through the vent on the top. Then the envelope and all other parts of the balloon are packed away in the recovery vehicle.
What is a balloon race? back to top
Balloon racing stands today as a sport and a very serious race. Pilots are scored on their accuracy as they fly from launch point to one or two targets. As they pass over the target they toss markers as close to the center as possible.
Why don't balloons fly during midday? back to top
Thermals, created when direct sunlight heats the ground causes the heat to rise quickly. During this condition, it creates tremendous turbulence, and is very dangerous. During "thermals" the balloonist cannot control the balloon.
How does a pilot land a balloon? back to top
The pilot controls the balloon's descent by opening small vents near the top of the balloon and occasionally giving the burner a blast to keep the descent slow and gradual. As the air inside the envelop cools, the balloon descends. The pilot may drop a safety line for crew members to slow down the lateral movement of the balloon and "walk" it to a safe landing area. Upon landing the balloon is deflated by pulling a valve line which opens the parachute valve atop the balloon. The hot air escapes rapidly.
What does it take to become a licensed balloon pilot? back to top
A licensed pilot has completed ground school and flight training with a certified hot air commercial pilot. This process consists of:
• Passing a Federal Aviation written examination;
• Obtaining the regulated hours of flight time with at least two solo hours
• Passing a flight test with a FAA examiner and furnishing a medical statement of health.
What about bad weather conditions? back to top
The weather conditions are one of the things over which there is no control and which can affect one or more scheduled events and/or cancel an entire ride.
Ballooning Jargon back to top
To listen to a balloonist speak it may seem that they have their own dictionaries. After all, ballooning has a very specialized vocabulary that includes such terms as:
Apex - The top center point of the balloon envelope, this feature is also known as the crown.
Blast valve - A flight burner control that sends full tank pressure through the burner system and gives the balloon instant hot air.
Burner - A device for mixing propane with air to produce a hot flame. It is the primary heat source in hot air balloons. Burners are normally made of a metal tube coiled around a venturi at the mouth of which is placed a jet or nozzle. The burner has two basic controls - a regulator, which controls the pilot light and a blast valve.
Ceiling - The height above ground at which cloud cover begins and visibility ends.
Loadtapes - Special load bearing tapes which are sewn over the seams of the balloon and run from the apex to the mouth where they connect with the suspension cables. The tapes help distribute the load evenly over the surface of the balloon.
Maneuvering vent - A self sealing aperture that permits the discrete outlet of hot air to check an ascent or to initiate a descent. It is controlled by a line to the basket.
Suspension cables - Flexible heat-resisting cables which are usually composed of stainless steel or Kevlar. These cables suspend the basket beneath the envelope and connect with the loadtapes.
Telltale - Special pieces of heat sensitive material placed inside the top of a hot air balloon to monitor the balloon's temperature. Excessive heat can cause damage to the envelope material.
Thermistor - An instrument used to measure the temperature of the hot air in the upper section of a hot air balloon. There is usually a "redline" temperature that must not be exceeded. Normally this "redline" temperature is 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Variometer - A sensitive vertical speed indicator that measures the relative up-and-down movement of the balloon in the air.
Last Updated (Thursday, 17 March 2011 10:58)