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Where do Hot Air Balloons Land?

Hopefully, on the ground…..Steerage is limited when your relying solely on the wind for direction. We often have an idea of where we would like to land prior to launch, but that often does not pan out. Because of this, we really do simply land where ever we can.

How are Hot Air Balloons Blown Up?

Well, hopefully, they aren’t. “Blown up” is not a phrase you want to hear when your sharing a wicker basket with a 20,000,000 BTU flamethrower and

40 gallons propane.

The inflation of a hot air balloon is done when a gasoline powered fan fills the envelope with cold air while the balloon is stretched out on its side. Once the envelope is packed with air from the fan, the pilot lights a propane burner and heats up the air inside the balloon. With a few short squeezes of the burner, the hot air balloon stands upright and is ready for launch. Typically, the entire inflation takes about 15 – 20 minutes.

How Many People Can Fly in a Hot Air Balloon?

There are a lot of different factors that play into this, but everything boils down to weight vs. lift. The amount of weight a balloon can lift depends on the air temperature, the air pressure, and the size and condition of the envelope, the ‘balloon’ part of the balloon. The warmer the air temperature, the lower the air pressure, or the heavier the payload, the hotter the air inside the envelope needs to be in order to generate enough lift to fly.


There are balloons in the 20,000 cf range that, rather than having a basket, the pilot wears a backpack that looks similar to a SCUBA setup and simply hangs by him/herself below the envelope. Then there are balloons in the 500,000 cf range that regularly carry 20+ people. Most balloons in Northeast Ohio fall in the 77,000-90,000 cf range and can usually carry between 2-4 people, including the pilot.

How does someone become a Hot Air Balloon pilot?

The following are the general requirements for student, private and commercial certificates.

Student Pilots

•A student must be at least 14 years of age.
•He must be able to read, speak and understand the English language (some exceptions allowed).
•No medical certificate is required, but the applicant must certify that he has no known medical defect that makes him unable to pilot a free balloon.
•Student pilot certificates may be issued by FAA inspectors or designated pilot examiners.

•Student pilots may solo after demonstrating to their instructor that they are familiar with Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations and are proficient in the following aspects of balloon operation: pre-flight preparation, operation of controls, lift-off and climb, descent and landing, and emergency situations.
•A student pilot may fly a balloon only under the supervision of a qualified instructor. He may not carry passengers or fly a balloon for hire.


Private Pilots

•To be eligible for a free balloon private pilot’s certificate a person must be at least 16 years of age.
•Read, speak and understand the English language.
•No medical certificate required. Same as paragraph 3 above.
•The applicant must pass a written test on such items as: (a) Federal Aviation Regulations covering pilot privileges, limitations and flight procedures, (b) use of navigation charts, (c) recognition of weather conditions and use for weather reports, (d) operating procedures with gas and hot air balloons.
•The applicant must have received instruction on the following pilot operations: (a) ground handling and inflation, (b) pre-flight checks, (c) takeoff and ascents, (d) descents and landings, (e) emergency conditions.
•Flight experience must include at least 10 hours in free balloons, which must include 6 flights under supervision of an instructor. These flights must include at least the following: tow flights of at least 30 minutes duration, one ascent to 3000 feet above takeoff point, and one solo flight (these requirements are for air balloons; requirements for gas balloons are slightly different).


Commercial Pilots

•The age requirement for a commercial pilot certificate is 18 years.
•Read, speak and understand the English language.
•No medical certificate required. Same as paragraph 3 above.
•The applicant must pass a more advanced written test on the subject matter listed in paragraph 4 above, additional operating procedures relating to commercial operations, and those duties required of a flight instructor.
•Advanced training must be received from an authorized instructor including those items listed in paragraph 5 above plus emergency recovery from a terminal velocity descent.
•The applicant for a commercial certificate must have at least 35 hours of flight time as a pilot, of which 20 hours must be in balloons, 6 under the supervision of an instructor, 2 solo flights, 2 flights of at least one hour in duration, and one flight to 5000 feet above the take-off point.
•The holder of a commercial pilot’s certificate may operate a balloon for hire and may give flight instruction.

How does a Hot Air Balloon steer?

Hot Air Balloons cannot be steered! Some directional control is possible by ascending or descending into air currents going in a different direction, this information is checked prior to launch by releasing a small helium balloon and checking up-to-date weather reports. The pilot can raise or lower the hot air balloon by controlling the temperature inside the balloon.

How big is a Hot Air Balloon?

Most balloons are between 50-60 feet wide and 7-9 stories tall, using close to 1800 sq. yards of nylon or polyester fabric, over 3 miles of thread, a 1/2 mile of reinforced nylon webbing (load tapes), and holds about 90,000 cubic feet of air.

The average hot air balloon (with a deflated envelope, basket, 30-40 gallons of fuel in 2 tanks) weighs about 800 pounds. Special Shape and larger commercial balloons weigh thousands of pounds. Once inflated and in the air it will weigh about 2 1/2 tons!

How do Hot Air Balloons Fly?

Hopes, Dreams, Fairy Dust, and the hope that you didn't eat one too many donuts at breakfast to affect your lift.....

Hot Air Balloons operate through the basic principles of gravity and heat transfer. As the air inside the balloon is heated past the ambient temperature of its surroundings, it gains altitude. As the air inside the envelope cools or is vented, it descends. Pilots use wind layers at different altitudes to move the balloon from one direction to another.

Why do Hot Air Balloons Only Fly Early in the Morning or Late in the Evening?

Winds are generally calm and 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 making afternoon flights unpredictable. In the morning, it takes a few hours 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 for flights are 3-6 mph. And remember, just because winds may seem acceptable at the surface, there is often a significant increase in windspeed at higher altitudes which may impact the decision on whether or not to fly.

How High do Hot Air Balloons Fly?

The highest hot air balloon flight on record went to an altitude of 22,000 ft. However, the typical pleasure flight would fly from treetop level to a few thousand feet, depending on the wind speed and direction.

How much does a Hot Air Balloon Cost?

That is like saying 'How much is a car?" Like cars and boats, new balloons vary greatlyin size and amenities. A new smaller sport model could cost around $20,000. These balloons typically carry the pilot and one passenger. Larger balloons that carry two to six persons in addition to the pilot will range in price between $25,000 and $70,000 (for envelope, baskets, tanks, and instruments). Used equipment is available and is often a great starting point for new pilots. Big commercial balloons (10+ passengers) and special shapes sell for market price making them quite costly, often exceeding the $100,000 threshold.

In addition to the cost of the balloon itself, there are additional expenses like fuel, insurance, registration, chase vehicle, additional instrumentation, and post-flight tacos and margaritas, which all add to the cost of the sport. 

How Can I Get Involved in Hot Air Ballooning?

Nearly every person in the Hot Air Ballooning Community became involved by first volunteering as part of a Chase Crew. If you are interested in participating, please complete the brief form at this link:

Fun Corvair Ad from 1966

This is an ad piece for a 1966 Corvair featuring a Hot Air Balloon

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