How does a balloon work?

Basics of balloon flying

Hot air balloons fly because the hot air they contain is less dense thus lighter than the colder surrounding air. They are "lighter than air", actually floating over the layer of denser air, just like styrofoam floats over water, instead of truly flying like an airplane.

The hotter balloons are, the higher they fly. The pilot can add heat with the burner and can also vent some hot air to cool the balloon and fly lower or land. The altitude control is actually very precise.

The balloon literally goes with the wind, its direction is determined by the wind direction. The pilot steers the balloon by changing the altitude of the aircraft, catching different winds with various speeds or directions This is a very natural form of flying.

Balloon Components

and some technical details

THE ENVELOPE (or "balloon")
is made of ripstop nylon coated with silicon or polyurethane to make it airtight. It contains the hot air and provides the lift. The bottom of the envelope is usually made of nomex, a non- flammable material.

The air temperature inside the envelope can reach 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit but varies depending on the ambient temperature, payload, and altitude.

THE BASKET (or gondola)
is where you stand, enjoying the scenery. Wicker has been proven to be the best basket material because it is light, strong, durable and flexible. The basket contains the propane tanks that feed the burner.

include an altimeter, a variometer that measures vertical speed, and a temperature gauge for the envelope. Most pilots also use a radio and a GPS.

is the 'engine' of the balloon. It uses liquid propane to produce a long flame up to 15 million btus (that is about 100 times your average barbecue grill) and heats the air inside the envelope.

All systems are redundant, this means that there is 2 of everything: in case something goes wrong with one, there is full backup.

Like cars, balloons come in all shapes and sizes, from the 1-person balloon to the "bus" with over 12 passengers. They can have a regular (round) shape or a special shape like the Energizer bunny, Airabelle the cow or Josie the flying cathedral.

Like cars, balloons require an annual inspection by an FAA-certified repair station.