The ‘Mechanics’ of a Hot Air Balloon

Have you ever wondered how the hot air balloon works? Many of our customers obviously want to understand the principles behind its ‘mechanics’ in order to feel safe, prior to their booking a flight, perfectly understandable. So today’s featured blog will be all about what makes up a hot air balloon and what role each part plays. We will explain how the balloon works, including what makes it rise and fall and how the pilot manoeuvre’s the balloon in flight.

If we were to start with the real basics we’d explain how hot air rises and cool air descends, however, this is something we’re each taught as kids, so we won’t go into detail. However based on the knowledge you can understand that, that principle means that hot air entering the balloon itself will enable it to rise and therefore, without cool air the balloon is sure to descend. The balloon (called an envelope) has to be the large size that it is, as it takes this large a volume of heated air to lift it off the ground. To put this into perspective, a great example would be to consider that it would take 65,000 cubic feet of heated air to lift 1000 pounds worth of weight! In order to keep the balloon in the air and rising, hot air needs to be propelled upwards into the envelope using the burner.

A hot air balloon is made up of 3 main parts including:

The Envelope
The actual fabric balloon which holds the air

The Burner
The unit which propels the heat up inside the envelope

The Basket
Where the passengers and pilot stand

A hot air balloon burner uses propane gas in order to heat up the air in the envelope. It is the pilots job to keep firing the burner at regular intervals throughout the flight so that the balloon continues at a stable height. As hot air rises, very little hot air escapes from the hole at the very bottom of the envelope. So to move the balloon upwards the pilot opens up the propane valve which lets the propane flow to the burner which in turn fires the flame up into the envelope.

In order to move the balloon down again, the ‘Parachute Valve’ at the very top of the balloon is used. This valve is simply a circle of fabric cut out of the top of the envelope which is controlled by a long chord that runs down through the middle of the envelope and into the basket. So when the pilot wants to lower the balloon he simply pulls on the chord opening the valve, which then releases hot air, decreasing the inner air temperature. This cooling of cause, allows the balloon to descend. In order to allow the balloon to lower gracefully, the pilot will use the burner less frequently.

The pilot is able manoeuvre the balloon horizontally by changing the vertical position of the balloon! As strange as this sounds, this is due to wind direction at different altitudes. So if the pilot wants to move in a particular direction they simply ascend or descend to the appropriate level and ride with the wind. But of course this is Britain and our weather does as it please, so we are limited to the variation in wind direction on the day which could only be 10 degrees and may not be consistent at all.

If you’d like to speak to a member of our team about your flight, or would like to know more about Balloons Over Britain before booking, please feel free to call us, we’re always happy to answers any questions you may have – 0845 071 6388.

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