Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list is not intended to be all-inclusive, but it will enable you to sound like you know what you're talking about if you should ever book a flight, go to a rally, or be a spectator at a launch or landing site.

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What are balloon baskets made of?

The walls of the basket are usually woven from rattan wicker.  Rattan wicker is used most often for the basket walls because it is light in weight while at the same time being strong and flexible.
However, other materials have been used in the construction of basket walls including wood, aluminum, and fiberglass.  Most baskets also contain a support framework made of wood, aluminum, steel, cable, rope, or a combination of these materials.  Baskets are designed so that the weight inside the basket, i.e. fuel tanks and passengers, is transferred directly to the load tapes or ropes of the envelope.

What are balloon envelopes made of?

Rip-stop nylon is the most common material. Polyester and other fabrics are sometimes used. The lower portions around the opening are usually made from a fire resistant material like Nomex, similar to what race car drivers and firemen wear.

What fuel does hot air balloons use, and where is it carried?

Propane is used for fuel. It is carried in aluminum or stainless steel tanks that range from 10 to 20 gallons in size. Average fuel consumption is about 15 gallons an hour.

What are the ropes for?

The crown line on top of the balloon is used to stabilize the balloon during inflation. "Tether lines" are used to tie the balloon down for display purposes. A "drop line" is sometimes released by the pilot just before landing so the ground crew can pull the balloon to a desired location.

Is it cold up there?

Yes and no, on average the ambient air temperature decreases at a rate of about 2°C for every 1000 feet in altitude increase within the troposphere. So on average the air temperature would be 6°C colder for folks flying in a balloon at 3000 feet above the ground versus the temperature on the ground. However, due to something called a temperature inversion, it can sometimes be warmer at that same 3000' than on the ground. Temperature inversions mostly occur during the winter on clear, cold, calm nights.

How hot can it get inside the envelope?

The temperature inside of a balloon envelope can vary due to a number of different factors. Most balloons have a maximum allowable temperature, red-line temperature, determined by the manufacturer. In general the red-line for a nylon balloon is 275°F and the red-line for a polyester balloon is 300°F.

How does a pilot steer a balloon?

A balloon does not have a steering wheel. A balloon goes where the winds blow it. However, the wind doesn't blow in exactly the same direction at every height. In fact the wind at different altitudes may blow in so many different directions that a balloon can go in any direction that the pilot wants. The balloon can even return to the place from which it took off, this condition is known as a box wind. Therefore, a balloon pilot can steer a balloon, within the confines of the wind conditions at the time, by ascending and descending to different altitudes in order to pick up the available wind directions.

How does a balloon get back to where it took off from?

With the exception of a box wind condition, a balloon will land somewhere downwind from where it took off. Because of this, balloonists utilize what is called a chase vehicle.

Where do balloons land?

This is a very common question and a very important one. It brings up many issues that are important for balloonists, such as land owner relations. With the exception of a box wind condition, a balloon will land somewhere down wind of where it took off. The landing spot can be any open area big enough bring the balloon into. The size of the area needed to land a balloon depends on the size of the balloon and the weather conditions at the time. The faster the wind is blowing, the more space is required to land a balloon. In calm conditions, the area can sometimes be no larger than the balloon itself. Balloons have landed in parking lots, golf courses, fields, ball parks, schools, back yards, front yards, streets, roads, and even parks to name just a few. A balloonist will try to pick a location that has easy access for the chase vehicle and is free of obstructions, (e.g. power lines and trees) although this is not always possible.

How large are balloons?

Balloon size refers to the volume of air that the envelope will hold when fully inflated. Size is measured in either cubic feet or cubic meters. Manned balloons range anywhere from around 12,000 cubic feet for a small single person balloon to many hundreds of thousands and even millions of cubic feet for the largest balloons.

How long do balloon flights last?

A typical morning or evening balloon flight lasts about one hour.  Depending on conditions such as wind, weather, daylight, and the availability of good landing spots a flight can last anywhere from a few minutes to up to two hours.

How long do balloons last?

Depending on the care it is given, a balloon envelope may last 500 or more flying hours. Considering that most sport pilots fly from 35-75 hours a year, balloons do last a long time.

What instruments do balloons have?

All hot air balloons carry these three instruments are an altimeter, a variometer, and a pyrometer.

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, design, and configuration, and number of burners.

How do balloons fly?

The balloon's burner is used to heat up the air that is inside of the envelope. Air that is heated will expand and become less dense. Since heated air is less dense, the air inside the envelope will weight less than the ambient air. Once the weight of the entire balloon system, including the fuel and passengers, is lighter than the surrounding air that it displaces the balloon will lift off of the ground and begin to fly.

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

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.

How do you get back to where you started?

A chase crew follows along in a van or truck. The chase crew is in radio contact with the pilot, so they can be there when the balloon lands (or soon afterwards).

How much do balloons cost?

The most popular sport size balloons cost from $18,000 to $25,000 or more. Support equipment (radios, fan, extra tanks, tools, repair kit, etc.) adds from $2,000 to $ 5,000 more. You can also buy used balloons.

How many hot air balloons are there?

There are over 3,500 balloons and 4,000 licensed pilots in the U.S. There are another 1000 or so balloons in other countries.

Can I smoke in or around a hot air balloon?

It's not advisable because of the possibility of propane fires or explosions from leaks.

How do you light the burners?
Usually with a striker similar to that used by welders to light their welding torches. Some burners have built-in piezo-electric igniters. Once lit, a pilot light keeps the fuel burning.

Do you need a license to fly a balloon?

Yes. A Balloon Pilot Certificate is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA. You must pass an FAA written exam, obtain a prescribed number of hours of instruction, make a solo flight, a flight to a specific altitude and pass a flight test. You don't have to be able to fly an airplane since it is a completely different type of aircraft, although many balloon pilots also fly other types of aircraft like airplanes and helicopters.

How old do you have to be to fly a balloon?

To obtain a Private Pilot Certificate in the USA you must be 16 years old. And would you believe that there are balloonists flying in their 80's!

Can balloons fly at night?

Yes, although balloonists seldom do because of decreased visibility and the requirement for instruments and lights. Most balloons are certified for day flying only.

What are the differences between gas and hot air balloons?

A gas balloon is completely enclosed and is filled with helium or hydrogen. A hot air balloon gets its lift from heating the air within it.

Can balloons fly over mountains?

Yes. However, there are some special problems: If you come down in an area where there are no roads it is difficult to get the balloon out Also, mountain winds are sometimes very turbulent.

When do balloons fly?

Balloons generally launch at sunrise, or in the last couple hours before sunset. The primary reason for this is that winds through the middle part of the day are often unsuitable for safe flying. Additionally, the mid-day sun's ultraviolet rays can prematurely degrade the chemical coating which is applied to the envelope during manufacture.

How high do you fly?

While it's possible to go as high as 12,000 feet without carrying oxygen, the typical sport or commercial pilot usually flies anywhere from treetop height (over uncongested areas) to about 5000 feet.

What kind of weather can you fly balloons in?

While it is possible to fly in winds of 10 knots or more, it's not particularly safe to do so. Generally, it is preferred to fly when surface winds are 10 knots or less. Winds of 5-8 mph are ideal. Another weather consideration is the speed of the winds aloft, up to about 9000 feet. If they are coming from varying directions at different altitudes, we have more "steering" capability, but again, speed is a factor, and we'd probably decline to fly if the winds aloft were in excess of 15-18 knots (about 20 mph). To fly a balloon a minimum of three miles visibility is needed, but seven or more is much preferable. Excessively hot days can make for uncomfortable flying, and also shorten the flight, since the warmer it is, the more quickly fuel is consumed.

Is ballooning safe?

Statistics have shown ballooning to be the safest segment of general aviation. The two most significant hazards are poor pilot decisions and contact with power lines. Providing that the aircraft is properly maintained and that the pilot is prudent in his/her decision-making process and proficient in piloting skills.

What if I'm afraid of heights?

Because there is very little sense of motion in a balloon, many people are able to overcome their fear of height. Rather than looking down, the natural reaction is to look "out" at the horizon and, because the balloon is moving relatively slowly, you probably won't react the same way you would in an airplane.

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