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Air Travel

Air travel is largely responsible for the convenience of modern business and leisure.

Airline travel is one of the safest forms of transportation in the world. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Airline travel is one of the safest forms of transportation in the world.

Air Travel

When it comes to air travel, there are more options than just flying on a standard commercial aircraft. Dirigibles and private jets are capable of traveling far but may cost more. Hot air balloons, ultralights, paragliders and hang gliders require a sense of adventure and, in some cases, the skills to fly the aircraft.


According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, the first dirigible, also referred to as an airship, was built in the 1890s in Germany. Dirigibles lost popularity after several high-profile crashes in the early part of the 20th century. Today's dirigibles can hold a few dozen passengers and reach maximum speeds of around 100 miles per hour. Dirigibles are steered using thrust, rudders and propellers. Due to their limitations, dirigibles are typically used for sightseeing by tourists, as advertisements and in the occasional scientific experiment. They use helium as their fuel source, making them more environmentally friendly than other gas-guzzling options.

Private Jets

Typically, private jet rentals are reserved for the extremely wealthy. However, in light of current economic times, private jet companies are courting less-affluent customers. One reason private jets are so expensive is that sometimes they fly customers to their location and then return to the jet's home base. When the customer is ready to come back, the jet goes back to pick them up. This leaves an empty aircraft flying back and forth between destinations. Jet companies often offer discounted rates to fill those empty planes, so if travelers are willing to hop aboard according to the pilot's schedule, they can get the flight for a fraction of the cost. Fortune Magazine provides travelers with a listing of companies that rent private jets and a description of services offered.

Hot Air Balloons

According to HotAirBallooning.com, there are over 3,500 hot air balloons in the United States and approximately 1,000 more located in other countries. Hot air balloons are made out of nylon, and their baskets are made out of wicker. Larger hot air balloons can carry up to 15 passengers and typically run on propane. Butane is used in areas where propane is not readily available. When the air inside the balloon is heated, the hot air rises, causing the balloon to float upwards. By adjusting the temperature of the air inside the balloon, the pilot can control the balloon's height. The pilot uses the height control to maneuver into the air that is flowing in the direction the pilot wants to go.

Hot air balloons are suited for sightseeing rides, since they cannot land in the same place they take off. A crew follows along on the ground and meets the balloon when it lands to take passengers back to their starting point. Hot air balloon rides can be found worldwide.


According to the EAA, ultralights, also referred to as microlights, are single-seat aircrafts that carry no more than five gallons of fuel, go no faster than 55 knots at full power and weigh less than 254 pounds when empty. In 1903, the Wright brothers built and flew the first ultralight in Kitty Hawk, N.C. In the United States, ultralights can be operated only during the daytime in uncontrolled airspace. They cannot be flown over an open-air assembly of people or over congested areas. There is no requirement for a license or mandated training to fly an ultralight, although proper training is strongly recommended. Pilots of powered ultralights must yield the right of way to other aircraft.

Hang Gliders and Paragliders

Hang gliding or paragliding is a more adventurous form of air sports. According to the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA), hang gliders regularly travel up to 200 miles, although the world record hang gliding flight covered 435 miles. Pilots, who hang from straps connected to the glider's frame, steer the craft by shifting their weight. Most flying sites for hang gliders require completion of a training program through the USHPA. Hang gliders are launched on steep slopes that face the wind. When no hills are available for launching, a hang glider can reach an aloft position by being towed by a stationary winch, a truck or an ultralight aircraft.

While hang gliders have a rigid frame, paraglider's canopies are maintained only by air pressure. In addition, while hang glider pilots are usually in a prone position, paragliders are usually in a seated position and the craft is foot-launched, using only air and gravity to fly. Paragliders fold down compactly and are easier to transport than hang gliders.

To learn how to pilot hang gliders or paragliders, visit the USHPAs Web site to find a certified instructor.

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