Balloons travel with the wind, so there is no way to steer the balloon. There may be different wind currents at different altitudes, and the balloon pilot can control the balloon’s altitude to find a wind going in the desired direction, but it is not an exact science!
Balloons fly when the wind is the calmest - early in the morning at sunrise, and in the evening near sunset. Balloons generally do not fly in the middle of the day because of thermal winds. These are winds generated during the day as the sun heats up the ground. They are very unstable winds, and it is unsafe to fly balloons when they are active.
Yes. The pilot certification process for ballooning is the same as for flying airplanes, and is regulated by the FAA. Students attend ground school and take flight instruction from a commercial balloon pilot. In order to earn a pilot certificate, one needs to take a written test and a flight test.
Yes. Balloons are aircraft and are strictly regulated by the FAA. Balloons need to pass an annual safety inspection by a certified repair station.
The balloon envelope, the fabric part that holds the air, is made of nylon or polyester fabric. It is tightly woven and covered with a material that keeps it air tight. The envelope is attached to the basket by steel or Kevlar cables. The basket has a steel or aluminum frame with wicker woven around it.
Modern hot air balloons carry one or more propane tanks, which fuel the burners that heat the air. The burners do not run continuously, the pilot lights them whenever heat is needed to maintain the required lift.
To go up, the pilot adds heat by turning on the propane burners. To go down, the pilot lets the air in the envelope cool down, or opens a vent in the side or top of the balloon to let some of the heat out.
It depends on the size of the envelope, and the weight of the passengers. A larger envelope can carry more weight. An average balloon (90,000 – 105,000 cubic feet) can carry 3-5 passengers. Larger balloons can carry up to 10 passengers.
A typical balloon flight is about an hour. How far the balloon goes will depend on the wind speed. Since a balloon pilot cannot steer the balloon to an airport, he or she will look for an open field or back yard. The pilot will avoid sites that are near livestock or crops. The ground crew will be directed to find the landowner to ask permission for the balloon to land.
The balloon chase crew consists of 3 or more persons that help the pilot to inflate the balloon, follow the balloon during the flight with the chase vehicle, and assist the pilot in packing up the balloon at the end of the flight. The pilot and crew are in radio communication during the flight, and the pilot will tell the crew what direction to drive.
After the balloon has landed, it is deflated and packed into the chase vehicle (usually a truck, van or trailer). The pilot, crew, and passengers then drive back to the launch site.
A typical balloon flight will fly as high as a few thousand feet. A pilot may choose to fly higher to find a different wind current. Most balloonists enjoy low level flight. It is not uncommon to pick leaves from the treetops while in a balloon.
Balloonists cannot launch if the winds on the surface are more than 8-10 knots. During an hour flight, a balloon usually travels from 5 – 15 miles.
The traditional pictures of balloons with sandbags on the baskets are depictions of gas balloons. A gas balloon has a sealed enveloped filled with a gas that is lighter than air such as hydrogen or helium. A gas balloon ascends by releasing some of the sand, and descends by venting off some of the gas. A hot air balloon does not need to carry sandbags, because they get their lift by adding heat.
The hot air balloon was invented in France by brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier in June of 1783. They observed that paper bags, when filled with smoke, would rise into the air. They built a large paper balloon, tied it over a bonfire, and filled it with smoke. The first balloon passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. The first manned flight took place on November 21, 1783.