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Hot Air Balloon Flights

Hot air balloon flights are among the most thrilling aviation experiences to be had.

Hot air balloons can travel within close proximity to one another. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Hot air balloons can travel within close proximity to one another.

Hot Air Balloon Flights

Many people are fascinated by hot air balloon flights and often wonder: What makes those colorful contraptions fly? A hot air balloon uses heated air contained within an envelope. The envelope is the air bag of a hot air balloon system, which is constructed of nylon or polyester fabric coated with polyurethane, making it less porous and protecting it from the rays of the sun. A framework of nylon webbing is sewn into the fabric, which strengthens the envelope.

How Hot Air Balloons Fly

A hot air balloon is made of three parts: the envelope (or the actual fabric balloon); the burners that propel the heat upward into the envelope; and the basket, or gondola, usually made of wicker, which holds the pilot and any passengers. The hot air balloon flies from the warmer air rising in cooler air; hot air is lighter than cool air, as it has less mass per unit of volume. The actual balloon has to be large enough to contain the very large amount of hot air required to fill it, get it off the ground and keep it in the air.

To help keep the balloon in the air and rising, hot air needs to be propelled upward into the envelope using the burner. The burner uses propane to heat the air in the envelope, which moves the balloon off the ground and into the air. The pilot has to fire the burner at regular intervals throughout the flight so that the balloon continues to be stable. The pilot is able to move the hot air balloon up or down using the burner and propane valve (thus releasing more or less propane depending on which direction he or she is trying to go).

To fly the balloon from side to side, the pilot will maneuver the balloon to different levels (or altitudes) in the air. The various levels will have wind blowing in different directions, so the pilot will maneuver the balloon to a specific altitude with the wind blowing in the direction he or she wishes to go.

Hot Air Balloon Rides

Hot air balloon flights are available almost anywhere in the world. According to Just Wine Country, the best time of day to take a hot air balloon flight is just after sunrise or a few hours before sunset. These are the times when the winds are at their calmest.

The experience of flying in a hot air balloon is unlike anything else. Passengers ride in the gondola (usually a wicker basket) and hear only the sounds of the burner as the balloon is propelled upward; once the desired altitude is reached, the only sound is silence. The hot air balloon drifts with the wind. Because the hot air balloon is moving with the wind, the gondola does not get tossed to and fro, and the ride is smooth. A hot air balloon travels as fast as the speed of the wind at the time, and most hot air balloons flights are at altitudes from just above tree level to around 2,000 feet. The gondola typically can carry between 2 and 12 passengers. The weight is determined by the volume capacity of the envelope.

Hot Air Balloon Festivals

Hot air balloon festivals occur all over the country and at all times of the year. Hot Air Balloon.com has a list of hot air balloon festivals worldwide, including North America. Some festivals include:

  • Northwest: Wah Chang Northwest Art and Air Festival, Albany, Ore. (in late August) and Walla Walla Balloon Stampede, Walla, Walla, Wash. (in May)
  • Southwest: Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, Temecula, Calif. (in June) and Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, N.M. (in October)
  • Midwest: Elkhart County 4-H Fair and Balloon Chase, Goshen, Ind. (in July), Michigan Challenge Balloonfest, Howell, Mich. (in June) and Huff n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally, Topeka, Kan. (in September)
  • South: Buffalo Trace Balloon Race, Maysville, Ky. (in August) and Cherry Blossom Festival Balloonfest, Macon, Ga. (in March)
  • Northeast: WYBA-Chester County Balloon Festival, Coatesville, Pa. (in June), Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, Whitehouse Station, N.J. (in July) and Great Falls Balloon Festival, Lewiston, Maine (in August)


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