Hot air balloon technology was the first method developed capable of making human flight a reality. Unmanned hot air balloons have been around for hundreds of years. Hot Air balloons known as Kongming lanterns were used in China in 220-280AD for military signalling.
Some people also believe that hot air balloons were used to create the ancient Nazca lines, created in the Nazca desert in Peru.
The first untethered manned balloon flight took place in Paris, France in 1873, in a balloon made out of Paper and light materials designed and built by the Montgolfier brothers.
The first hot air balloon passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. These animals were selected for their physiology to test the effects of a flight. The sheep (named montauciel or ‘climb-to-the-sky’) was selected to test the effects of flight on a land dweller, as it was believed that the physiology of a sheep was similar to that as a human. The duck and the rooster were selected as controls, as they were already able to fly, albeit at different altitudes.
The envelope is the large, specially designed fabric part of the balloon, which holds the hot air. The envelopes are generally made of nylon, which has a melting point of 230 degrees Celsius. The temperature of the air inside the envelope is kept below 120 degrees Celsius.
Most envelopes have the standard balloon shape known around the world, although some are made into special shapes such as cartoon characters, animals, or other fun objects, such as the cluster balloon from the Disney Pixar film ‘Up.
Bailey Balloons have a number of different sized hot air balloons. Our smallest balloon can carry 2-3 passengers plus pilot, whilst our largest balloon, Red Letter Days, can carry 16 passengers plus pilot. The largest passenger hot air balloon, produced by Cameron balloons in Bristol can carry 32 passengers plus pilot and holds a massive 750,000 cubic feet of air in its envelope. The balloon was manufactured using 2,800m of Cameron ripstop and Hyperlast fabric, 3,100m of loadtape and over 17km of thread! When fully inflated, this huge balloon stands almost 40m high!
The burner creates a flame to heat the air inside the envelope by mixing air and liquid propane. A burner can put out 10-20 million BTUs at temperatures over 1000F or 537.8 Celsius. Your home heating boiler puts out about 50,000 BTUs. The basket, where the pilot and passengers stand, is mostly made of hand woven wicker, which absorbs some of the shock from a hard landing.
Christian Brown designed a glass bottomed balloon basket, allowing passengers to fly thousands of feet above the earth with nothing but glass beneath their feet. The balloons first passengers flew from the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in 2010, with the flight described as “terrifying”, although the views were stunning!
Hot Air Balloons fly as a result of the hot air created inside the envelope by the burner. The hot air inside the envelope is less dense than colder air outside which causes the envelope to rise, creating flight. The direction in which a hot air balloon flies is determined by the wind direction. Although there is no mechanism for ‘steering’ the balloon, balloon pilots can change direction by ascending or descending to pick up varying wind directions at different heights. Hot Air Balloons have a vent which allows the pilot to control the speed of ascent and descent of the balloon. Clive Bailey is known for his amazing abilities to land in a field he has picked from miles away!
Hot Air balloons can take off and land from most accessible open areas, such as parks, school grounds, fields or even in a very large back garden! No airport is required.
Balloons can fly in any season but unfortunately the wet and windy winter weather in the UK is not suitable for ballooning, and so we tend to fly from March to the end of October. Balloons need stable weather with good visibility, no rain and light winds. We normally meet after sunrise and about 2-3 hours before sunset when the winds are at their calmest. Flying mid-day in the Summer is risky because of stronger winds and unpredictable turbulence.
Balloon Flights with passengers can cover up to 3-20 miles, however the distance a balloon can fly depends on fuel, wind speeds and available landing sites. Balloons can also been flown for long distances when the fuel, weight and weather etc is right. There are also records for altitude and flight duration, as well as shortest time around the world.
Steve Fossett of the USA, who managed the flight in 320 hours 33 minutes, holds the record for shortest time around the world in a balloon. Steve’s balloon was a combination helium and hot air design named ‘Spirit of Freedom’.
The duration record for a flight in a hot air balloon is 50 hours and 38 minutes. This record was set by Michio Kanda of Japan on 1st February 1997.
The distance record for a flight in a hot air balloon is 7,671.91km, set by Per Axel Lindstrand of Great Britain on 15th January 1991.
The altitude record for a flight in a hot air balloon is 21,027 metres, set by Vijaypat Singhania of India on 26th November 2005.
Balloons can climb over 10,000 feet above sea level before pilots and passengers require oxygen. Most flights occur within 2000 feet of the ground.
The highest manned balloon ascent (in a gas balloon, not a hot air balloon) was by Alan Eustace, who used a helium balloon to ascend to 136,400 feet or 41,375 metres, before skydiving back to earth, reaching speeds of over 800 miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound! However, as Eustace did not return to the ground in the balloon, this record is not recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the world air sports federation, which controls the rules of world records for all flying sports, and certifies attempts.
Hot Air Balloon flights are popular around the world, offering stunning views of the local scenery on offer. Well known locations include Cappadocia (Turkey), Albuquerque (New Mexico, USA), Luxor (Egypt) and the Serengeti (Tanzania). The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, held over 9 days with over 500 balloons launching as part of mass ascents every year.
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, of which Clive Bailey is a director, is one of the largest Fiestas in Europe where over 100 balloons launch as part of the mass ascents each year.