Questions FAQ

How far will we fly

Hot Air Balloons travel with the wind and an hour flight can carry it from 2 to 15 miles or more. 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. In light winds it is not unusual for pilots to be able to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of trees.

How do you steer a hot air balloon?

Using the wind to direct the hot air balloon 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 pre-flight 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.

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 and uses sand as ballast, hung in bags around the outside of the basket.

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

Blind birds are very rare.

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

Balloon schools do not really exist 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 long does it take to inflate and deflate the hot air balloon?

A good ground crew can inflate and launch a small balloon in fifteen minutes or less. It takes about the same amount of time to deflate and pack up the balloon after the flight. A large commercial balloon might take 45 minutes for each operation.

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 wind the weather is very important in deciding to fly or not. 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 aluminium 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.

What instruction will I get?

If you are a passenger on a balloon flight, whether with a private balloonist who is flying you for free or on a commericial flight where you have bought a balloon flight gift voucher, you should receive a passenger safety briefing. On a passenger balloon flight in the UK with a commercial balloon pilot the CAA stipulate that the briefing must be thorough and preferably made with the passengers in the basket and in the quiet period before the balloon inflation is started.

How is the balloon inflated?

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.

What kind of fuel is used for the burners?

Balloon take off with heat from the burnersTo 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 and 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 high pressures. In cold climates the propane tanks can be pressurized with nitrogen for 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 on the day of the flight. A light jacket is sometimes comfortable in autumn or early spring. Women should wear jeans or trousers 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 balloon ride. A hot air balloon makes a perfect camera platform and there is always plenty to photograph prior to, during and after to the flight. You should take a suitable soft case with you in which to stow the camera during the landing phase of the balloon flight.

What are hot air balloon envelopes made of?

The colourful balloon 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 350,000 cubic feet for a balloon capable of carrying a pilot plus sixteen to eighteen passengers.

How are balloon pilots licensed?

Balloons are registered like any other aircraft and are subject to regular airworthiness checks. In the UK the CAA 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 commercial pilots are licensed by the CAA and have to pass regular flight checks.

Where will we land?

balloon deflation on stubble fieldNobody 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 does the balloon ground crew know where we are?

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

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 balloon launch field?

The balloon is followed by a recovery vehicle and the crew. They are in regular contact with the balloon pilot by radio and will hopefully be at the landing site at around the same time as the balloon. Once the balloon is packed away (and the ceremonies are complete) the passengers are returned to the balloon launch field.

Who controls ballooning and ensures safety standards?

In the UK the CAA authority controls ballooning and anyone offering commercial balloon rides should have an Air Operators license (AOC) and this number should be displayed in their advertising. In the next few years EASA will take over the regulation of balloons in Europe. In the USA the Federal Aviation Administration controls ballooning with the same strict regulations that apply to airplanes.Similar regulatory bodies apply to other countries where passengers are flown in commercial hot air balloons.

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. Really hot evenings can be problematic, with the pilot having to wait later than normal for the gustiness of the wind to die down.

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.

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