Why Do Hot Air Balloons Not Catch Fire?
People who are concerned about the safety of hot air balloons often wonder how these balloons don’t catch fire despite their huge flame inside.
Well, the flame inside of a hot air balloon is far from the fabric, plus the fabric which the envelope or balloon is made from does not catch fire, it instead just melts the panels which are affected, which will cause the balloon to break off.
In our informative guide below, we will cover what hot air balloons are made from, how the fire/burner in hot air balloons work and some of the other more common safety risks when flying hot air balloons.
What Material Are Hot Air Balloons Made From?
Hot air balloons are made mostly from nylon which is heat-treated, this causes the material to melt rather than catch fire in panels.
We’ve gone into more detail about how hot air balloons are made part by part below.
- Envelopes – As we mentioned above, the balloon or envelope of your hot air balloon will mostly be made from nylon which is stretchy and can withstand heat. Each panel of the balloon is then sewn together to make the envelope, each panel is known as a gore. There is a crown ring at the top of the balloon plus a vent to help it land by releasing the hot air.
- Basket – Most baskets are made from willow and cane to support passengers and are handmade, the size depends on the size of the balloon.
- Burners – Your burner is powered with propane gas and makes the balloon rise, most can be controlled by the pilot if there are two of them to change the movement of the balloon.
- Instruments – Pilots have instruments to monitor altitude as well as air temperature, some modern ones now have GPS tracking too.
How Does The Fire In Hot Air Balloons Work?
The burner is responsible for making the fire inside of your hot air balloon, this hot air then is responsible for making the balloon rise since it gets stored inside. Propane gas is what makes the balloon rise and is stored in a compressed form inside of the balloon which travels to the heating coil and gets ignited by the pilot light inside.
Hot air does not escape from the balloon due to the convection inside which stays up through a process called buoyancy, the pilot has control over how high and down the balloon can go down by opening and closing the gas valve.
Common Safety Risks Of Flying With Hot Air Balloons
Hot air balloons catching fire is low risk when you are up in the air, but if you are concerned about your safety on the balloon then there are some other common risks to be aware of.
- Weather – Weather is one of the biggest factors that can affect the safety of a hot air balloon, high winds should be avoided, rain and thunder which cause damage to the balloon as well as poor visibility for the pilot.
- Power lines – Most accidents involving hot air balloons and powder lines are unfortunately fatal, take-off and landing points should be far away from these lines and an emergency landing should be performed if one is within the direction you are heading.
- Pointy objects – Pointy objects could potentially pierce the envelope causing the hot air to leak and the balloon to go down since it allows the cool air inside to bring the balloon down.
Are Hot Air Balloons Safe?
Now we know that fire isn’t a risk when flying with hot air balloons you might be wondering how safe they are.
Well, in comparison to a plane, hot air balloons are very safe and you have a small number of incidents per year related to hot air balloons, they are safe due to modern technology and experienced pilots, most have safety features onboard too as well as FAA certification which means the balloons have to be checked after every 100 hours of use.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hot Air Balloons & Fire
Has a hot air balloon ever caught fire?
There have been a few incidents where hot air balloons have caught fire but this is mostly due to them colliding with power lines that ignite with gas.
What is the number one cause of hot air balloon accidents?
The number one cause of hot air balloons is pilot error, this could be due to poor judgement of landing or bad navigation
How do you make sure a hot air balloon is safe?
Ensure that a hot air balloon has fire extinguishers, two sources of ignition, two hoses in case of a leak and a rope for ground staff handling.
Do pilots have to have training before flying a hot air balloon?
Yes, a pilot should have at least 35 hours of training before flying commercially and a license of certification, the pilots also have to undergo other training to make sure they are experienced with safety precautions when flying.
Which gas do hot air balloons use?
Hot air balloons use propane gas for their flame which is compressed then ignites with the pilot light inside of the balloon, many pilots have a backup pilot light for this in case the ignition does not work as well as back up propane gas.
What could cause a fire in a hot air balloon?
Most of the time a fire could be caused by misdirection when lighting up the balloon or if the balloon was to collide with a power line this could spark the fire.
Overall, hot air balloons don’t catch fire despite their open flame due to being made from flame-resistant nylon material, this is specially coated at the base to avoid igniting and will simply melt instead. Most hot air balloons will have a fire extinguisher just in case, more likely incidents to happen with a hot air balloon are colliding into power lines or bad weather and human error.
I’m Annie, a twenty-something year old girl who loves hot air balloons. So much so, that I have a full time job as a Flight Instructor and it is all I love talking about. Something about being up there in the elevated altitudes helps all my stresses float away!