Frequently Asked Questions about Hot Air Ballooning

Below are some of the questions on hot air ballooning that we are frequently asked. If you have any additional questions, please Contact Us.

What are hot air balloon envelopes made of?

The colourful envelope is usually made of nylon or polyester, the same type of cloth that parachutes are made of. It is very tightly woven and is coated with a material that makes it very air tight. It is very light (1.3 ounces per square yard) but very strong (25 lbs per square inch). The nylon is only used to keep the hot air in the balloon. The basket load is transferred by steel or Kevlar cables to a series of vertical load tapes which carry the load. Balloons range in size from about 54,000 cubic feet for a one- or two-person balloon to over 250,000 cubic feet for a balloon capable of carrying a pilot plus eight or ten passengers.

How are balloon pilots licensed?

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Balloons are registered like any other aircraft and are subject to regular airworthiness checks. The FAA will not allow a balloon to be certified as airworthy unless these inspections and checks are done by authorized maintenance personnel and certified by them. All pilots are licensed by the FAA and have to pass regular flight checks.

How do you steer a hot air balloon balloon?

Balloons simply float with the wind. You can control the balloon's altitude to find a wind going in the desired direction, but you cannot fly upwind or crosswind. With good preflight planning you should anticipate which way the balloon will be travelling and choose your take-off sites to ensure that there are plenty of suitable landing sites downwind. In the northern hemisphere the balloon track over land will often turn to the right at higher altitudes because of the coriolis effect.

How long do hot air balloons last?

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Depending on the care it is given, a balloon envelope may last 500 or more flying hours. Some colours are more resist to sun shine and the effect of heat ageing. In the past red has been particularly prone to early failures. Considering that most sport pilots fly from 35-75 hours a year, balloons do last a long time.

What happens if a bird flies into a hot air balloon?

Blind birds are very rare.

Are all hot air balloons alike?

All hot air balloons consist of a burner system, a basket and an envelope. The differences are in the shape and size of the envelope, the deflation system, the basket shape and design and the configuration, design, and number of burners.

Are there hot air balloon schools, where I can learn to fly?

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Balloon "flying schools" do not really exists in the same sense as flying schools for light aircraft.  There are however a few commercial balloon operators who advertise as balloon schools.  These are usually located in areas where flying weather is assured for most of the year.  We know of one both in Spain and in Italy. The school will hire you a balloon, together with an instructor and retrieve crew and start instructing you in the art of balloon flying.  The requirements for hot air balloon licenses vary between countries and you should make sure that your chosen school can support the syllabus of your country. You should also check the local regulation relating to paid flying instruction and make sure that your instructors are correctly licensed.

How far will we fly on our ho air balloon ride?

It depends on the wind speed. Hot Air Balloons travel with the wind and a typical hour long flight can carry it up to 15

Ten miles, sometimes more, sometimes less. The balloon also flies at different altitudes. Although the balloon is at the mercy of the wind when it comes to direction, the vertical control of a balloon can be very precise. It is not unusual for our pilots to be able to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of trees, or inches from the ground. A leaf picked from a treetop is a very worthwhile souvenir of the flight!

How long does it take to inflate and deflate the hot air balloon?

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A good ground crew can inflate and launch a balloon in fifteen minutes or less. It takes about the same amount of time to deflate and pack up the balloon after the flight.

Why do flights take place so early in the morning?

Balloons need stable winds to operate effectively and the hours just following sunrise are the best for finding these winds. Since balloons move with the air, the weather is very important in deciding to whether or not to fly. The pilot chooses a launch site to use the wind currents to fly towards a suitable landing site.

Why is the basket made of wicker?

The wicker basket has proven to be very strong for its weight and is flexible. The wicker is sometimes woven around a steel or aluminum frame, which helps to support the upright posts upon which the burner is mounted. The top rim of the basket and the uprights are usually padded and covered in suede or leather.

How is the balloon inflated?

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When the time comes to put the balloon up, the envelope is removed from the bag and laid out in a long line. The burners are attached to the uprights, and the basket is attached to the cables on the bottom of the envelope. An engine driven fan is used to inflate the envelope with cold air. When partially inflated, the air is heated by a burner and the envelope rises above the basket. With further heating, there is sufficient 'lift' for the balloon to fly.

Can I bungee jump from a hot air balloon?

On Sunday 5 May 2002, Curtis Rivers leaped from the freezing atmosphere, 15,200ft above Puertollano, Spain, to set a new World Record for the Worlds Highest Bungee Jump. So yes it can be done! However, to make it happen you will need to be able to parachute down afterwards. landing a balloon with a person suspended below is not recommended. You will also need to find an experienced pilot willing to organise the required permissions and insurance.

What kind of fuel is used for the burners?

To heat the air, the burners are fueled by propane gas. The burners do not run continuously, they are only used intermittently to heat the air to maintain the required lift. The pressure in the propane tanks an hence the power of the burner is very dependent on the ambient temperature.
In hotter climates butane is mixed in with the propane to prevent to high pressures. In cold climates the propane tanks can be pressurized with nitrogen fro additional pressure.

What should I wear?

You should wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There is really no need to dress up. You should wear the type of clothing that you would expect to wear if you be going for a walk the day of the flight. A light jacket is sometimes comfortable in the fall or early spring. Women should wear pants or shorts, and layered clothing is much better than a heavy coat. Shoes should have flat soles, and the majority of top clothing should be made of cotton rather than man-made fibers. Tall passengers may find a hat useful because of the radiant heat from the burners.

Can I take a camera?

Yes, there is no problem in taking either a still or video camera with you during the flight. A hot air balloon makes a perfect camera platform and there is always plenty to photograph prior to, during and after to the flight. We do recommend, however, that you have a suitable soft case with you in which to stow the camera during the landing phase of the flight.

Where will we land?

Good question! The simple answer is that nobody knows, exactly! The pilot will have done flight planning before the launch to ensure that the forecast wind direction does not take the balloon towards an unsuitable area. The pilot will use the different air currents at different altitudes to steer the balloon toward a good landing place. The pilot also closely follows agreements with local landowners. This means that the balloon won't fly too close to livestock or land in areas planted with valuable crops.

How far will we fly

Again...it depends on the wind speed. Hot Air Balloons travel with the wind and an hour flight can carry it up to 15 miles, sometimes more, sometimes less. The balloon also flies at different altitudes. Although the balloon is at the mercy of the wind when it comes to direction, the vertical control of a balloon can be very precise. It is not unusual for our pilots to be able to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of brush, or inches from the ground A leaf picked from a treetop is a very worthwhile souvenir of the flight!

How does the chase crew know where we are?

Radios are used to stay in contact with the chase crew as well as with Air Traffic Control and other aircraft flying in the vicinity. Mobile phones are also frequently used.

How high do balloons fly?

Most balloonists enjoy low level flight. The typical balloon flight would be anywhere from tree level to about 3,000 feet above the ground.

How do we get back to the launch field or the hotel?

The balloon is followed by a chase vehicle and the crew. They are in constant contact with the balloon pilot by radio and should be at the landing site at the same time as the balloon. Once the balloon is packed away (and the ceremonies are complete) the chase vehicle will take you back.

Who controls ballooning and ensures safety standards?

In the USA the Federal Aviation Administration controls ballooning with the same strict regulations that apply to airplanes. In the UK the CAA authority controls ballooning and anyone offering commercial balloon rides should have an Air Operators license. In the next few years EASA will take over the regulation of balloons in Europe.

How do you steer a balloon?

The balloon goes wherever the wind takes it. However, pilots can seek higher or lower altitudes to find wind currents of various direction. We refer to it as the truest form of sailing.

Is it cold in a balloon?

At high altitude, it is colder than at ground level, generally 3.5 degrees colder for each 1,000 feet of altitude.

What are the best conditions for flight in a balloon?

A balloon flies better in cooler weather since the hot air gets a better "lift." Balloonists usually fly just after dawn or before dusk, because there is less wind at these times.

How large are hot air balloons?

Most balloons are larger than your house. They hold from 19,000 to 211,000 cubic feet of air and loom from 50 to 90 feet. The larger the balloon the more passengers it will be able to carry.

How does a hot air balloon differ from a gas balloon?

A hot air balloon gets its lift from heating the air with propane fuel. A gas balloon gets its lift from lighter than air gases, usually helium or hydrogen.

What are the baskets that hang from balloons made of?

Because weight is critical in balloon flying, the baskets are made of light materials such as wicker, fiberglass or aluminum.

What instruments do balloons use?

An altimeter to indicate altitude, a variometer showing its rate of climb or decent are about the minimum. Most pilots today also fly with a GPS system that will indicate speed, direction and location. Each propane tank has a fuel gauge, and the burner has a fuel pressure gauge.