An average hot air balloon flight takes about an hour, but it is not easy to predict how far the balloon will fly in that time.
The first manned flight of a hot air balloon in 1783 lasted 10 minutes and did not travel very far at all, as the balloon was tethered to the ground. At balloon festivals, tethered pleasure flights are available, but most people want to fly in a balloon that travels some distance.
Unlike aeroplanes, hot air balloons do not have motors that can be used to increases or decrease speed. Hot air balloons are powered by the wind, and their speed depends on the speed of the wind.
Wind speeds vary at different altitudes. A pilot has a limited control of the speed by ascending or descending. If the wind is fairly strong, the balloon could fly around 20 miles, but obviously, in calmer winds, the distance travelled will be much less.
Another question often asked of pilots is where the balloon will travel to, but this cannot be accurately predicted. The balloon destination is dependent on the wind speed and direction. Unlike many forms of transport, a hot air balloon flight is about the journey, not the destination. The balloon operator can tell you about what you may see on the flight according to the wind direction, but because they do not know how far the balloon will travel, they cannot tell you where the balloon landing site will be.
The point of a hot air balloon flight is the enjoyment of the journey, having a birds-eye view of the British countryside, and taking pictures to share memories of your journey with friends and family.
In 1991, Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson flew 4,767 miles from Japan to Canada in a hot air balloon. This was not a typical hot air balloon, but the largest ever built with a balloon envelope that held 2.6 million cubic feet of hot air. This balloon flew at speeds up to 245 miles an hour.
Eight years later, the first round-the-world balloon flight was made by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. Not surprisingly, it was the longest ever balloon flight, with a distance of 29,055 miles covered in over 19 days.
The highest a manned hot air balloon has ever flown is 69,852 feet. This record flight was made by Vijaypat Singhania in a 160 feet high balloon.
World View Enterprises is planning to send people to a height of 100,000 feet in a balloon that reaches the edge of space. At $75,000, though, tickets are a little outside of most flyers’ price range.
Record distance attempts need special balloons. To go extremely high, you need pressurised cabins, and all this makes for an expensive pursuit. For much less (around £100), you can travel in a hot air balloon up to 1,000 feet above the English countryside, and travel just a few miles.