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How do you steer a hot air balloon?

22nd February 2018 Mark Hot Air Balloon Rides

Unlike aeroplanes and helicopters, hot air balloons have steering restrictions. A hot air balloon pilot can ascend or descend, but has very limited means to steer left or right.

The direction of flight

The direction hot air balloon goes in is determined by the wind. Whatever direction the wind blows in, that is the direction that the hot air balloon takes. For many, this is one of the attractions of a hot air balloon flight – you cannot predict where the flight will take you unless you are an expert at forecasting the wind direction.

At different altitudes, the wind speed and direction may be different, so a pilot has the ability to go up or down to find the wind blowing in a different direction. This is a very limited way to steer left or right.

Near ground level, the air in the Northern hemisphere of the Earth tends to move to the left near the ground, and to the right in the Southern hemisphere. This means that when landing, the balloon could turn left, but uneven terrain can cancel this effect.

Going up and down

Steering up and down is a straightforward process. The canopy of the hot air balloon is filled with hot air that lifts the balloon up. Firing the burner heats more hot air and causes the balloon to rise further.

As the hot air cools, the balloon will descend. There is a vent in the balloon canopy that allows hot air to escape and this is another means for the balloon to descend.

If the burner is not lit for a while, the balloon will eventually land. When landing, the burner is often used for few short bursts to lift it up again and enable the balloon to land in a safe area.

Level flight

A balloon can rarely achieve level flight. As the air cools, the balloon starts to descend, but a burst of the burner will make it rise again. Equilibrium is when the balloon is neither going up nor down but this can only be achieved for short periods. Prolonged level flight is rarely achieved.

This is fine as the rising and falling of the balloon is very gentle and silent.

It doesn’t matter!

The great thing about a hot air balloon flight is that it does not matter which direction the flight takes. The area has so many sights that look great from the air, that passengers are unconcerned about where the flight takes them.

Most journeys have a destination. The destination of a hot air balloon is the landing site. It doesn’t really matter where the landing site is as long as the pilot can safely land the balloon.

If you have a particular flight destination in mind, a helicopter or plane that can steer in any direction will do, but a flight in one of those noisy machines is not nearly as peaceful as a magical mystery tour in a hot air balloon.

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