Program Articles

May 27, 2010

Hot Air Balloon Facts

For questions like; How much does a balloon cost? and How can I be involved without buying a balloon or becoming a pilot? and How do balloons fly? read this article.

How much does a balloon cost?

Like cars and boats, new balloons can vary in size and amenities. You can start with a smaller sport model for about $20,000. These balloons typically carry a pilot and one additional person. The larger balloons that can carry two or three passengers in addition to the pilot will range between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars. There are many good used balloons on the market that vary in price with size, age and flight hours.

How can I be involved without buying a balloon or becoming a pilot?

Many people start in ballooning as a crew person. In most areas, you can join a local club that organizes races and community functions. You can also check the local yellow pages for balloonists in your area and offer your services. Or, the next time you see a balloon flying in your area, follow it and offer to help when it lands.

How do balloons fly?

Balloons operate through the basic principles of gravity and hot air weighs less than cold air. As air inside the balloon is heated, it rises. As the air inside the balloon cools, it descends. To inflate the balloon, an inflator fan fills it with cold air, and then the air is heated with the burner(s).

Can you steer a balloon?

Winds determine a balloon’s direction. Balloonists can steer a balloon, to a limited extent, by adjusting the balloon’s altitude to make use of the different layers of wind speeds and directions.

How long does a balloon flight last?

Actual flight times average about an hour to two hours. The entire ballooning experience, including pre-flight preparation, flight and post-flight celebration, may take two to three hours.

What fuel do balloons use

Sport hot-air balloons carry 20 to 45 gallons of propane in aluminum or stainless steel fuel tanks. The propane is kept in pressurized tanks on the floor of the basket. It is carried under pressure and passes to the burners through flexible hoses. When the valves are opened, the propane vaporizes and is ignited by a pilot light in the burners. The flame may shoot out as much as ten or twenty feet, making a loud “whoosh.”

Why do balloons fly in the early morning and late evening?

The air is more stable at those times and winds are generally most favorable the first hours after sunrise and the last hours before sunset. Since asphalt, trees, mesas, and all things on earth absorb the suns heat differently vertical winds develop (thermals) as the day progresses. Because the only control a pilot has in a balloon is changing altitude, a pilot usually won’t fly in the middle of the day when that control is lost. Hot air balloon pilots usually prefer winds of less than 10 miles per hour.

Who can be a balloonist?

Balloon pilots come from all walks of life. Anyone with the desire to learn to fly a balloon, is at least 16 years old and has no medical condition that would prevent it, can become a pilot.

Do you need a pilot’s license?

Yes. There are two levels of balloon pilot ratings. The first is a private pilot. The private pilot must have at least 10 hours of flight time in free balloons, which must include six flights under the supervision of an instructor. The private pilot must pass a written test, oral test and a flight check prior to being issued a private pilot’s license. The second rating is a commercial pilot. The commercial pilot must have at least 35 hours of flight time, of which at least 20 must be in balloons (the remaining 15 hours may be in other aircraft). The commercial pilot must pass an additional written, oral and flight check prior to being issued a commercial pilot’s license. The holder of a commercial pilot’s license may operate a balloon for hire and may give flight instruction.

What equipment is required for balloons?

Balloons include several parts: the envelope (fabric portion of the balloon), the basket, burners and fuel system. The material for balloon envelopes is made of rip stop nylon or polyester with tough, durable coatings for heat and air retention. The basket is usually made of wicker, which is strong, yet flexible and is aesthetically pleasing. Burners are arranged in single, double or triple configurations, and each burner typically puts out 15,000,000 b.t.u.s. Fuel systems consist of aluminum or stainless steel propane tank(s) and fuel hoses. Other necessary equipment includes an inflator fan, two-way radios and some means of transporting the balloon from location to location when it’s not flying (chase vehicle).

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