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Information About Hot Air Ballooning Information About Hot Air Ballooning

1.  Who invented hot air balloons?

The first hot air balloon was developed by two brother, Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Eitienne Montgolphier, who were the 12th and 15th of 16 children born to Pierre and Anne Duret Montgolfier.The Motgolphier brothers were French and lived in Annonay, France. The Montgolfier family operated a paper manufacturing business. In 1782 French King Louis XVI designated their high quality linen paper to be the official Royal stationery. This was a great honor and provided the Montgolfiers with a very profitable business.

2.  How did the Montgolfier brothers get the idea of a hot air balloon?

One evening in 1782, Joseph and his wife, Therese, were sitting in their house in Avigon, France. Therese was drying her chemise on the back of a chair in front of the fireplace. When a puff of smoke was blown under the chemise, the fabric billowed and the chemise lifted off the chair. Joseph concluded that the smoke had a lifting force. The next day, Joseph took a bolt of taffeta and stretched the cloth around a wooden frame in the form of a six-sided globe, three feet on each side and four feet high with a one foot-square opening in the bottom. He rested the globe on a support, inserted a few twists of paper in the opening and ignited them. In a few moments, the globe floated off the supports and bumped into the ceiling.

3. After Joseph's first experiment with the globe, what was the next step in creating a hot air balloon?

Joseph became very excited about the feat, and wrote to his brother. In December of 1782, he conducted another experiement with his 'flying machine' at the family home in Vidalon. The buoyant globe rose to a height of seventy feet and floated in the air a full minute. On December 14, 1782, the Montgolfiers tested a larger model that was 9 feet on each side with 9 times the capacity of the earlier model. They gave this globe 'too much activity' (overheated it). It broke the retaining cord and few off for nearly a mile where a passerby demolished it.

4. Why did a passerby demolish the first hot air 'globe'?

The peasants of the time were uneducated, and thought that the billowing black smoke and the round globe were demons to be destroyed.

5. Why did Etienne try to register the ascending 'globe' machine with the Academy of Science?

Etienne attempted to register the ascending machine with the Academy of Science on December 16, 1782, because he feared that others would not hesitate to steal the brothers' work and take the credit. He claimed that their device could lift weights at a very little cost, that it might prove useful for passing signals, for sending messages into cities under siege, and for making experiements on the electricity in clouds.

6. When and where was the first public demonstration of the 'ascending machine'?

During the early part of 1783, the Montgolfiers built and tested various balloons using a variety of fabrics. They finally settled on a silk skin with a lining of their linen paper. The first public demonstration of their ascending machine took place in the City Square of Annonay, France on Wednesday, June 4th, 1783. This unmanned flight of the 35 foot diameter balloon covered approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

7. Why were the Montgolfier brothers challenged by the idea of flying?

The next challenge facing the Montgolfiers was the possible flight of living beings. The common fear was that living creatures (other than birds) might not survive in the atmosphere above the earth due to evil spirits and other unknown dangers.

8. What was the next step in testing airborne passengers?

A demonstration to pursue this challenge was formulated by Etienne working with a Commission appointed by the Academy of Science in Paris. The Ministry of Finance financed the project and its Controller General arranged for a public exhibition at the royal chateau in Versailles. King Louis XVI assented to this exhiition.

In September 19, 1783, to test their idea about flying a great distance above the ground, the Montgolfier brothers created a big taffeta balloon coated with varnish. The balloon had a capacity of 37,500 cubic feet, displaced 3,192 pounds of air, and was 57 feet in heigh and 41 feet in diameter. The fuel was damp straw from the barns (with manure), shredded wool, old shoes and spoiled meat. The choice of fuel was thought to give the aerostat greater lift since the soot would cure the faric so that it was less porous.

9. Who were the first 'passengers' to test balloon flight?

A taffeta balloon was attached to a carriage and a sheep, a duck, and a rooster were placed on board. The flight ascended to about 1,500 feet and came down in the countryside about 2 miles from the launch. At first is was thought that evil spirits in the atmosphere did exist, as feared, because the rooster was discovered with a broken neck and the sheep and duck were not found. Later reports stated that the sheep had broken the rooster's neck when the cage sprang open and the passengers fell out, with the sheep and duck running away. Since these first passengers all survived the first flight, it was proved that living beings could survive in the earth's atmosphere, and the brothers knew that they too could fly in a hot air balloon.

10. Why were the first solo test flights never recorded?

Etienne conducted several solo test flight in early October, but these flights were not recorded because father Pierre had forbidden Joseph and Etienne from ascending in their machine. Pierre required the brothers to take an oath that they would not fly in the machine. Motgolfier family correspsondence however states that Etienne had "embarked" on "aerial voyages" in preparation for a royal demonstration.

11. Who conducted the first tethered test flights?

Francois Pilatre de Rozier, age 26, conducted a series of tethered test flight on October 15, 17th and 19th, 1983. Rozier was the head of the French Museum of Natural History. He fueled his balloon with straw and wool, and make a 9 minute tethered flight to 324 feet. Rozier's flying was excellent as he ascended, descended and was able to avoid strking the trees in the courtyard. Rozier's first passenger that day was Giroud de Villette. The second passenger was Francois Laurent, the Marquis d'Arlandes, a major in the French infantry.

12.  Where did the first manned flight take place and who were the areonauts?

Major Laurent took charge of arranging the logistics for the first manned flight to be held at the Palace of the Dauphin, the Chateau de la Maette, near the Bois de Boulogue, on the outskirts of the Paris capital. 

In November 21, 1783, the first recorded manned flight in a hot air balloon took place in Paris. Built from paper and silk by the Montgolfier brothers, this balloon was piloted on a 22 minute flight by two noblemen from the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Rozier and Laurent.

13. Who attended the first manned flight?

The official team of observers included Benjamin Franklin, the unofficial ambassador for the American colonies. The Royal Family, dignitaries of all ranks, Members of the Academy of Science and thousands of spectators gathered to witness man's first flight.

14. What happened when the first men tried to lift off?

The two aeronauts climbed aboard, hooked up their harnesses, and situated themselves in two very large breadbaskets that would be their flight stations. The flight stations were on opposite sides of the gallery with peepholes in the fabric giving each aeronaut a view of the other.

The weather turned fowl. The tethered aerostat was struck with a gust of wind which slammed the aeronauts into the courtyard. For the next one and a half hours, repair work was conducted under the restless glare of the crowd and the royalty. "Great ladies" contributed their art as needlewomen.

The aerostat was reinflated and at 1:54p.m. the Montfolfier had a majestic lift off. From the center of Paris they ascended 500 feet above the roof tops before eventually landing miles away in the vineyards. The winds initally came from the Northwest. The balloonists few over the Seine River, the City of Paris and on to the countryside.

15. What did Ben Franklin have to say about the first manned flight?

A spectator of the launch remarked, "So, what's the use of it?" Benjamin Franklin replied, "What is the use of a newborn baby?"

16. What happened which almost destoryed the balloon during the first manned flight?

During the flight, Laurent noticed holes developing in the balloon fabric which were fairly large and smoldering on the edges. He quickly attached a sponge to his pitchfork, dipped it into a bucket of water and extinguished the fires. After a flight of approximately 20-25 minutes, the aeronauts chose to land within one hundred yards of tall windmills located on either side of their aerostat.

17. How was the balloon saved after it landed?

Laurent jumped out at touch down and Rozier stayed onboard as the aircraft collapsed on top of him. Rozier took off his overcoat to be unhampered. With the fire in the brazier still smoldering, they quickly had to remove the burning embers and save the aircraft. Peasants and working people rushed to the scene. They grabbed Rozier's overcoat and began fighting over it. The police arrived, restored law and order and the aircraft was secured and saved. 

18. How does air create lift?

By displacing the air inside the balloon with heat. NATURE LIKES THINGS TO BALANCE!  And when things are not balanced, nature will always change something to bring it back into balance. This condition is called equalibrium. As long as the inside temperature and the outside temperature are equal the balloon will  fly level.

19.  How do you get a balloon to come down?

There are at least two ways to get the balloon to come back to earth.   Remember that we said that so long as the temperature outside the balloon and that on the inside remained the same the balloon would fly level. Well, because the balloon is not  very well insulated it is always loosing heat and if we do not keep it hot with the balloon burner it will not stay in the air. 


There is another way that we can get the balloon to descend. The balloon has a valve at the top with a control line to the basket.  The pilot can pull the line to open the valve and allow some of the heated air to escape. This causes the balloon to descend more rapidly that just losing heat through the envelop surface.

20.  What fuel is used to create the heat for lift?

Most hot air balloons use propane to fuel the burner. The propane is carried in 10 or 20 galloon tanks on board the basket.

21.  When was the first 'Modern Hot Air Balloon' invented and who was the firt modern hot air balloon inventor?


ED YOST, working as an engineer for RAVEN industries, flew the first  MODERN HOT AIR BALLOON on October 13, 1955.   He sewed an envelope of nylon fabric and used a lead melting pot burner and “LPB”  also called PROPANE, to inflate the balloon. 


The first Modern Hot AIR BALOON did not have a basket, but used a parachute harness to lift Ed into the air. The flight was very short, but proved that  the material had light weight and strength to make a perfect fabric for safe ballooning.


22.  How many balloon pilots are there in the world?

Today there are about 10,000 hot air balloon pilots in the world, with about 5,000 pilots in the United States. The balloons used for passenger flights today were developed in the United States during the 1960s and have two main technological advances: using rip-stop nylon, a very safe and reliable material for the envelope and running a LPG gas burner to heat the air in the envelope. Ballooning began as a sport with a few enthusiasts in the USA and England and spread to Australia in the 1970s.

23.  How does a person become a balloon pilot?

The Federal Aviation Administration determines the requirements to obtain a balloon rating. They require that the student pilot must be at least 14 years old to solo the hot air balloon.  Before soloing, the student pilot is required to have a minimum of 6 flights with a commercial balloon pilot instructor, and must have at least one balloon ascent to 3,000 feet above the ground. The FAA provides for a practical checkride and an oral test. But before the checkride, the student must pass an FAA written test.

24.  What is the average size of a hot air balloon?

The average hot air balloon is 80 feet tall, 50 feet in diameter at the widest point (equator), weights 600 pounds, has an air capabity of 77,000 cubic feet, or approximately 77,000 basketballs.

25.  How much can a hot air balloon lift?

The average hot air balloon has the ability to lift about 1400 pounds, depending on the outside air temperature. The cooler it is outside, the more the balloon will lift.

26.  How does a hot air balloon stay up?

To keep the balloon rising, you need a way to reheat the air. Hot air balloons do this with a burner positioned under an open balloon envelope. As the air in the balloon cools, the pilot can reheat it by firing the burner.

27. What are the parts of a hot air balloon?

A hot air balloon has three essential parts: the burner, which heats the air; the balloon envelope, which holds the air; and the basket, which carries the passengers.

Modern hot air balloons heat the air by burning propane, the same substance commonly used in outdoor grills. The propane is stored in compressed liquid form, in lightweight cylinders positioned in the balloon basket. The intake hose runs down to the bottom of the cylinder, so it can draw the liquid out. Because the propane is highly compressed in the cylinders, it flows quickly through the hoses to the heating coil. The heating coil is simply a length of steel tubing arranged in a coil around the burner. When the balloonist starts up the burner, the propane flows out in liquid form and is ignited by a pilot light. As the flame burns, it heats up the metal in the surrounding tubing. When the tubing becomes hot, it heats the propane flowing through it. This changes the propane from a liquid to a gas, before it is ignited. This gas makes for a more powerful flame and more efficient fuel consumption.

28.  When is the best time to fly a hot air balloon?

Hot air balloons are controlled by the wind. The greater the wind speed, the less control the pilot has over the balloon take off and landing. The best wind conditions are 10 miles an hour or less. Therefore, early morning sunrise flights or late afternoon early evening flights generally have less wind speed, and have more predictable wind directions.

29.  How many people are needed to launch a hot air balloon?

The pilot and 4 people are needed to inflate and chase a hot air balloon. The crew helps the pilot lay out the envelope, and assist with the cold and hot inflation. Because the balloon goes in the direction of the wind, a chase vehicle is needed to follow the balloon which it is in the air, and pick up the pilot and passengers at the end of the flight.

30. How is a hot air balloon inflated?

A typical hot air balloon flight starts with unpacking the balloon from its carrying bag. A gasoline powered fan is used to blow cold (outside) air into the envelope. The cold air partially inflates the balloon to establish its basic shape before the burner flame is aimed into the throat heating the air inside. A crew member stationed opposite the throat, holds a rope tied to the apex (crown) of the envelope. The "crown-man" acts as a dead weight in order to slow the envelope's rise so that the envelope can achieve maximum inflation (volume) before standing erect. Once the balloon is upright, pilot and passengers climb into the basket. When the pilot is ready for launch, more heat is directed into the envelope and the balloon lifts off gradually.

31. What are the other duties of the balloon crew?

During the flight the balloon is followed by the chase crew. The chase crew is usally in radio or cell phone contact with the pilot, and the crew's job is to be at the landing site when the balloon touches down. This can be quite an adventure in itself. After the balloon lands, the crew packs the balloon back into the chase vehicle and everyone returns to the launch site.

Once of the most important parts of being on a chase crew is dealing with teh public. When the balloon is landing, the chase crew asks the landowner for permission to retrieve the balloon. We are borrowing someone's land every time we take off and land, so we are very careful not to disturb or damage someone's property.

32. How does it feel to fly in a hot air balloon?

If you actually need to get somewhere, a hot air balloon is a fairly impractical vehicle.You can't really steer it, and it only travels as fast as the wind blows. But if you simply want to enjoy the experience of flying, there's nothing quite like it. Many people describe flying in a hot air balloon as one of the most serene, enjoyable activities they've ever experienced. It's like floating on an air raft, and seeing the world from a completely different point of view.

Once airborne, balloons just float with the wind. It is true that the pilot doesn't know where the balloon will land. Before the balloon is launched, the pilot knows which way the wind is blowing, so he knows which way the balloon will go. The air is in layers, and the different layers may be moving in different directions. So even though the pilot cannot steet the balloon, he can move up and down to find a layer of air that will allow the balloon to change direction.

33.  From what material is a balloon envelope constructed?

In th 1950s, the Dupont Corporation developed a verry revolutionary fiber, called nylon and polyester.These fiber were used to weave a strong, but light weight fabric. Early modern hot air balloons were an ideal application for this material. Time showed manufacturers that the efficiency of the balloon and fuel economy could be increased by coating the fabric with substance to close the pores on the fabric to make it air tight. Another great advantage of this material is its wide range of wonderful colors.

34. What are some of the different activities for which balloons are used?

Modern hot air balloons have been used as heavy lifting vehicles in the logging industry to move large timber from remote locations to decrease the environmental impact on local vegetation. They have also been used in scientific research in the rain forests of South America for scientists to retrieve insect samples without distrurbing the canopy of the forest. Many corporations use hot air balloons as a huge billboard to advertise their products and services and to capture the imagine of viewers. Balloon ride operations provide sightseeing tours of the animal preserves in Africa. These very large balloons have the ability to carry up to 35 people for an airborn adventure.

35.  Where do you go to find more information about ballooning?

There are many books on the history and science of ballooning available through the library and on the Internet. Much of this information was taken from the book, The Montgolfier Brothers and the Invention of Aviation - 1783 to 1784, by Charles Coulston Gillispe; Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ (1983). 

36. What is the Balloon Federation of America?

The Balloon Federation of America (BFA) is a membership organization that represents the interests of over 3000 members in promoting the sport of ballooning. www.bfa.net is a starting resource for more information on ballooning in the United States as well as ballooning events, and ballooning operators who are trained to provide flights for the public.  

37. How much does a hot air balloon cost?

About as much as a Chevy truck. You can buy plain ones or you can buy whistles. You can buy used balloons (and used trucks) for $5,500 to $10,000. A complete new balloon system costs $22,000 and up, depending on the size and the complexity of the design and artwork.

38. When was the first hot air balloon flown in the U.S.?

The first manned flight of a balloon in America occurred on January 9, 1794. It was a hydrogen gas balloon piloted by the same Frenchman who was the first to cross the English Channel, Jean-Pierre Blanchard. The flight ascended froma prison yard in Philadelphia, PA. He ascended to about 5,800 feet and he made a successful landing in Gloucester County in New Jersey. George WAshingto observed the launch.

39. Where was the first hot air balloon race held?

On February 2, 1962, the first hot air balloon race in aviation history was flown during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. The balloons lifted off at Ramsey County Beach in White Bear Lake. Ed Yost, a former employee of General Mills, flew his original design of the Raven hot air balloon, when he completed against 2 other balloonists. Only 5 or 6 hot air balloon were in existence in 1962.

40. Where was the first National Championship held?

By 1963, sport ballooning had grown enough so that the first U.S. National Championship was held in Kalamazoo, MI.

41. Where was the first World hot air balloon champion held?

Sid Cutter produced and directed the First World Hot Air Balloon Championship held in Albuquerque, February 1973. 132 Balloons from 14 countries participated in a 9 day event and established Albuquerque as the Mecca of ballooning throughout the world.

42.  Where was the first long distance hot air balloon race held?

In Helen, GA in May, 1974. The race begins at 7:00a.m. on Thursday. Balloon pilots are followed by an entourage of crew who refueled the balloon and sent it back up again to continue its journey. The winner is the first person to cross I-95, or whoever is ahead at sunset on Friday.

43. Who was the national championship last year?

During the week of July 23rd to 29th, 2005 the National Championship was held in Andrson, SC. Paul Petrehn completed 24 challenging and successful tasks to become the Balloon Federation of Amercia 2005 National Championship.

44. Who is the youngest person to become a National Champion?

In 2001, at age 17, Donner became the youngest pilot ever to win the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship. At the same event he was named U.S. Rookie of the Year. In 2002 he took first place at the Motegi Hot Air Balloon International Championship in Japan and seventh place at the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in France. In 2003 he was again the the U.S. National Champion.

45. What is the different is a hot air balloon and a gas balloon?

Unlike hot air balloons, gas balloons do not depend upon fire to get them aloft and stay up. They use hydrogen or helium and can therefore stay up longer and their altitude can be controlled somewhat easier with the use of ballast (sand bags). Gas balloons were the primary mode of air travel until the invention of the airplane. However, it was expensive and time consuming to inflate a gas balloon, so flying was not something just anyone could afford.

46. What does it take to become a pilot, and how can I get training?

In the United States, hot air balloon pilots must have an license from the Federal Federation Administration. You must be at least 14 years of age, have 10 hours of flying time, pass a written test, take a solo flight, and then a check ride with a certified FFA examiner.

47. Why do balloonists generally have a celebration at the end of a flight?

In the early days of ballooning, suspicious farmers, frightened by the giant gas bags descending from the sky, sometimes attacked the balloons with pitchforks. Building a new balloon for each flight was too expensive, so balloonists began the practice of offering champagne or fine wine so that frightened landlubbers would see they were friends, and not foe.

48.  When was the first transatlantic balloon flight?

July 2-4, 1987. Richard Branson and Per Linstrom fly the first transatlantic hot air balloon flight (2,789.6 miles) from Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine, to Ireland in the hot air balloon Virgin Atlantic Flyer.

49. Who was the first licensed female hot air balloon pilot?

Jeannette Piccard became the first licensed female balloonist in the world and the first woman to ascend into the stratosphere.

On a cool, clear Michigan morning in October 1934, Jean and Jeanette Piccard stepped inside the pressurized, air tight gondola of a balloon named Century of Progress and launched themselves into history, soaring to a record atitude of 57,979 feet. The flight, piloted by Jeannette Piccard, proved that humans could tolerate ascents into the frigid stratosphere with gondolas and balloons designed to withstand the low pressures of the atmosphere’s isothermal layer. The technology, developed by Jean and his twin brother, Auguste, laid the groundwork for manned space flights decades later.

She continued to collaborate with her husband, Jean Piccard, until his death in 1963, after which she became a consultant to NASA’s manned spacecraft division. A decade later, in 1974, she gained notoriety as one of the first women ordained as an Episcopalian priest.

50. How do hot air balloons compete?

In their simplest form, balloon competitions score how close a pilot can get to a pre-determined target. Small weighted markers are dropped at the target. The challenge is to be the closest to the target, but unlike all other forms of flying, balloon pilots do not have direct control of their direction of flight. The balloon simply drifts with the wind.

Competition pilots have become quite skilled in reading the winds aloft and using them to their advantage to get where they want to be (the target!). Competitors have gotten so good that the difference between first place and third or fourth can be fractions of an inch.

Competition directors have developed extremely complicated tasks for pilots to accomplish, and many pilots lose points for rules violations even though they flew quite well. Here is a sampling of some of the tasks competitors may be assigned to fly. The first four are fairly simple competitions that are very popular at festivals that offer light competition. The others will give you an idea of the complexity of tasks that occur during heavy competition like world or national championships.

Hare and Hound
All the balloons launch from the same site. One balloon takes off first and is the hare balloon. The other balloons are called the hounds, and they will launch a predetermined time after the hare. The hare lands at a suitable site and lays out a large fabric X, usually about 50 feet in diameter. The hound balloons attempt to drop their markers as close to the center of the X as possible. The closest marker achieves the highest score.

Convergent Navigational Task (CNT)
The target X is placed in a secure area. The balloons can launch anywhere they want as long as they are outside of a predetermined radius from the X, usually 1, 2, or 3 miles. Pilots fly in, drop their markers at the X, and scoring is based on the distance from the center of the X.

Watership Down
This is a two-part task that combines a CNT with a Hare and Hound. Competitors take off outside of a predetermined radius of the first target (usually at the festival site) and drop their first marker. The hare balloon launches from the first X and the hound balloons continue on to drop their second marker at the X set down by the hare.

Key Grab
A Key grab is nearly identical to a CNT, but instead of an X at the target, a pole 10 or 20 feet high is the target. A detachable ring is fastened to the top of the pole. The first pilot who removes the ring wins the prize. Prizes can be almost anything; new cars, cash, and even new balloons have been given away! An X for a CNT is often placed near the pole and the two tasks are flown simultaneously. Throw your marker and grab the ring - you can do quite well in a single flight!

Minimum Distance Double Drop
The judges define two scoring areas. The task is to drop one marker in each scoring area, with the shortest distance between the two markers achieving the highest score. Watch out, though - in an effort to get your markers as close together as possible, one marker might drift outside the boundaries of a scoring area, resulting in no score.

Pilots take off from a common launch point (point A) and fly to a judge declared goal (point B). One marker is dropped at point B. The pilot then tries to change the direction of flight and drop a second marker at a point (point C) that will result in the smallest angle between point A and point C.

Multiple Pilot Declared Goal
The competition director will assign pilots to drop markers at multiple targets of their choice. Targets are usually road intersections or road - railroad intersections. Sounds easy! But the targets must be identified by their map coordinates. The first target's coordinates must be declared before launch, the coordinates for the second target must be written on the tail of the marker dropped at the first target, and so on. Errors in writing down the coordinates or choosing a target that is difficult to get to can cost precious points.

As you can see, balloon competitions can be very challenging. Serious competitors use very sophisticated computer programs to track wind speed and direction before they fly, and use GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in the balloon during flight to assist in determining the best altitude to fly to get to the next target.

In the early days of competition flying, some pilots felt lucky to drop a marker within a hundred feet of a target. Today, the center of a target can have dozens of markers within a foot of its center. Sometimes penalty points or a rules violation can make the difference between winning and losing.


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