Hot air balloons seem almost magical as they float in the air. People love to watch them and those who ride in them describe their flight as a “peak” experience. Hot air balloons are a safe and secure way of flying, but not many people consider what their composition. In case you are curious, here’s a description of what a hot air balloon is made of.
A hot air balloon has three main parts: the canopy, the burner and the basket.
The canopy is that part of the balloon that gets filled with air so that it rises. The canopy needs to be both strong and lightweight.
The first hot air balloons were made from silk, which would still be a suitable fabric for the canopy, but of course would be very expensive to use. Most canopies are made from less expensive nylon, which works just as well.
The mouth of the canopy needs to endure much higher temperatures than the rest of the canopy, so is usually made with heat-resistant fabric such as Nomex, which is fireproof so that it does not ignite when the burner is used.
Nylon melts at 450°F, but the hot air inside is around 250°F. Nomex can he be heated to up to 700°F without damage.
The nylon used for the canopy is tough and resistant to damage. The nylon fabric performs well within safety tolerances so that it makes flying in a hot air balloon a safe activity.
The burner that heats the hot air inside the balloon is mainly made from stainless steel and is powered by propane gas, which is stored in cylinders in the balloon basket. Burners are single or double depending on the size of the balloon.
Although fierce flames emit from the burner, they are perfectly safe. The burner has a pressure gauge that shows the amount of gas pressure to enable the pilot to carefully control the burning gas.
The basket that holds the pilot and passengers has basically the same design used in the early days of hot air ballooning in the 1700s. The basket is made from natural wicker which allows the basket to flex on impact with the ground to prevent injury to the passengers.
In the early 1970s, experiments were made by constructing baskets with fiberglass, but these designs were abandoned after some of them shattered on hard landings.
The floor of the basket is usually plywood. Stainless steel wires connect the basket frame to the rest of the balloon. The frame of the basket is usually made from steel rods, with the rattan or willow wicker woven around it. The wicker basket is usually coated in varnish to maintain its shape.
The edges of the basket are covered with rawhide, suede or leather to protect them. Sometimes the inside of the basket is covered in leather for comfort.
You don’t need to know what a balloon is made of to enjoy the exhilarating feeling of flying high in a hot air balloon, but now that you do, you can feel confident that you’re flying in something made of high-quality, purpose-driven materials.