Bellestar and Out-of-the-blue

How do balloons fly?

Balloons operate through the basic principles of gravity and heat transfer. As air inside the balloon is heated, it rises. Essentially, hot air is lighter than cool air, because it has less mass per unit of volume.

A cubic foot of air weighs roughly 28 grams (about an ounce). If you heat that air by 100 degrees F, it weighs about 7 grams less. Therefore, each cubic foot of air contained in a hot air balloon can lift about 7 grams.

That's not much, and this is why hot air balloons are so huge -- To lift 1,000 pounds, you need about 65,000 cubic feet of hot air!

As the air inside the balloon cools, it descends.

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 different wind speeds and directions.

How long does a balloon flight last?

The actual flight time averages about an hour to an hour and a half. 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 stainless steel fuel tanks. They typically burn 12 to 18 gallons per hour.

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

Winds are generally most favorable the first hours after sunrise and the last hours before sunset. The sun’s uneven heating of the earth’s surface causes strong, variable winds. In the morning, it takes a few hours for the sun to heat the earth’s surface enough to generate the thermal activity that creates wind. In the evening, the sun’s intensity has diminished enough to reduce winds to acceptable flight levels. Ideal winds are 3 to 6 mph.

How high do balloons fly?

Balloons typically fly from treetop level all the way up to several thousand feet, depending on what the pilot is trying to accomplish. The world record in a stock Aerostar hot air balloon is over 32,000 feet! Most recently a pilot in India set a record of about 77,000 ft above sea level in a hot air balloon.

Who can be a balloonist?

Balloon pilots come from all walks of life. Anyone with the desire to learn to fly a balloon 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 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 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.

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 join the Balloon Federation of America, which is the national sanctioning body for the National Championships and is dedicated to promotion of the sport. In addition, you can 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.

What equipment is required for balloons?

Balloons include several parts: the envelope (the fabric portion of the balloon), the basket, burners and fuel systems. The material for Aerostar balloon envelopes is made of an exclusive Aerostar Diamond Weave™ ripstop nylon with tough, durable coatings for heat and air retention. The basket is made of wicker, which is strong, yet flexible and is aesthetically pleasing. Burners can come in either single, dual, or triple.

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 around \$14,000. 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 \$25,000 and \$45,000. There are many good used balloons on the market that vary in price due to size, age and flight hours.

How Big?

A typical balloon is about 55 feet across and 60 to 80 feet tall. They are categorized by how much air the envelope can contain. A common sizes is the AX-8, with an envelope volume of  90,000 cubic feet. This is the most widely flown model because it can be easily handled by a crew of three to four people. A typical envelope has about 1,200 yards of material and about 3 miles of thread.

How Many People?

The size and capacity of the envelope determines the lift of the balloon, and hence how many people can be flown safely in the balloon. Less obvious, other factors are equally important: ambient temperatures, altitude above sea level, and passenger weight. These factors combined determine how many people can fly safely on a given day.

How Heavy?

A typical RX-8/AX-8 system like our balloons weighs about 575 pounds: the envelope weighs about 225 pounds, and the basket, fuel, and on-board equipment add another 350 pounds.

How High?

A balloon can fly, with proper weather conditions, up to 12,500 feet above sea level before oxygen is required. However, most passengers enjoy lower altitude flights, where they can talk to people on the ground, do touch-and-go (or, for the adventurous, splash-and-dash) landings, and experience the terrain below from a distance where details can be observed.

Backup Systems

For safety, most modern day balloons have 2 completely independent burner systems. Even if both of the burners were to fail, the balloon itself acts as a giant parachute. In such a rare event, the balloon descends to earth at about the same rate as a parachute, approximately 9 to 10 miles per hour.

How Does All That Air Get In There?

For inflation, the balloon is spread out on the ground with the basket on its side, and while the mouth of the balloon is held open by crew members, a large fan is used to blow cold air into the envelope. Since the envelope is so light, the balloon can be almost entirely filled with air by the fan. Once the balloon is almost full of air, the pilot will ignite the burner and heat the air inside the envelope. Both basket and envelope rise into an upright position as the air is heated.