Have you ever wondered what keeps a hot air balloon flying? The same
principle that keeps food frozen in the open chest freezers at the
grocery store allows hot air balloons to fly.
It's a very basic principle: Hot air rises and cold air sinks. So
while the super-cooled air in your grocer's freezer settles down around
the food, the hot air in a hot air balloon pushes up, keeping the
A hot air balloon has three major parts: the envelope, the burner,
and the basket.
The basket is where passengers ride. Usually made of wicker, baskets
protect the occupants and are lightweight and flexible.
The burner is positioned above the passenger's heads and produces
a huge flame to heat the air inside the envelope.
The envelope is the colorful fabric bag that holds the hot air. When
the air inside the envelope is heated, the balloon rises.
To descend, the pilot allows the air to cool and the balloon becomes
heavier than air. The pilot has complete control of the up-and-down
movements by controlling the heat in the envelope.
Once airborne, balloons just float with the wind. It is true that
the pilot doesn't know where the balloon will land ahead of time,
but that doesn't mean he can't control the landing!
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 can't steer the balloon, he can move up and
down to find a layer of air that will allow the balloon to change
Some days the amount of change is very small; other days the balloon
may be able to actually turn around and fly in the opposite direction!
During the flight the balloon is followed by the chase
crew. The chase crew is usually in radio 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.
One of the most important parts of being on a chase
crew is dealing with the 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. We thank the landowner, and by the time the crew is leaving
the landing site, most balloonists are already planning their next flight!