Our Ultimate Guide To The Parts Of A Hot Air Balloon
Balloons are a breathtaking sight and experience, which makes it surprising to learn that they are made up of very simple parts and functions for them to fly.
The main parts of a hot air balloon are the envelope which is the canopy of the balloon, the basket which is where the passengers sit and the burner which is what lets the balloon fly into the sky.
Down below in our guide, we will discuss in further detail who came up with the idea and created a hot air balloon, how a balloon floats in the sky, the main parts and functions as well as other needed equipment on a balloon.
Who Created The Hot Air Balloon?
Before we get into how a hot air balloon works and all its main parts and functions, let’s first begin with where hot air balloons came from and who invented them.
The idea and invention of hot air balloons came around in 1783 when the Montgolfier brothers sent one chicken, a sheep and a duck on a flight. These were powered by burning straw and other materials, they all survived the flight which showed people the power of buoyancy and that people could breathe at that altitude.
Later on, gas balloons follow, then smoke balloons, but the Montgolfiers envelope design stayed as the traditional hot air balloon which we now use with modernised parts.
How Does A Hot Air Balloon Fly?
As we mentioned above, buoyancy was discovered way back in the 13th century but was proven by the Montgolfier brothers.
A hot air balloon can take off due to buoyancy which in simple terms means the hot air which enters the balloon envelope from the burner becomes lighter in weight than the colder air on the outside, allowing it to float upwards, then the air gets cooled when the balloon needs to come back down.
Main Hot Air Balloon Parts And Functions
To help you understand how hot air balloons work and their functions, we’ve listed the main parts and functions of a hot air balloon down below.
First off, let’s start with the envelope of a hot air balloon, this is essential for hot air ballooning since it houses everything inside and allows the balloon with air to fill and rise.
Most of the time the entire balloon envelope is made out of strong fire-resistant nylon and is woven into different panels which we will discuss later. Generally speaking, the size of the envelope on an inflated balloon determines how many people it can carry, but other factors affect this too like the weather.
We’ve listed the main parts of an envelope below.
- Panels & Gores – The panels are what are sewn together to make up a hot air balloon envelope, two panels then make up what’s called a gore on a hot air balloon. For a most commonly used S-55A balloon there are 24 of these. Gores are put together by webbing which holds the hot air balloon designs together. This will then be treated with a polyurethane coating for durability.
- The Crown & Top – There are two main designs for a canvas balloon crown, one is the circular deflation port which is closed off in a circular panel and the hook/loop mechanism which is the most popular. The parachute top has a vent which allows hot air to come in and out for ascent and descent, you’ll likely see telltales here too which indicate the temperature of high-tech balloons.
- Deflation Port Line – This comes from the top of the balloon and is pulled by the pilot for balloon landings, it deflates the balloon material by the hook and loop closure coming open so that hot air can flow out of the balloon. There might also be a side vent for balloon pilots to manoeuvre according to ascent and descent depending on the type of the balloon.
- The Skirt – The skirt at the bottom of the envelope allows the burner warm air to come up through a stovepipe type effect, this has peeling tabs.
Hot air balloon baskets are typically made from aluminum, aluminum or fibreglass, this is then attached to around 24 cables directly to the balloon envelope in order for the balloon basket to be suspended.
Woven balloon basket types are not only more traditional but help reduce impact when landing, they can come in both square and rectangular shapes according to the balloon.
The propane burner of a hot air balloon is essential to the balloon staying in the air, it stays in the centre of the hot air balloon along with a blast valve which allows the pilot to have complete control over the hot air balloons fuel rate.
To turn the burner on there is first a pressure gauge to say what the pressure is, the propane is then transferred from the tanks to the burner on the balloon through hoses, the fuel then passes through coils and vapors as gas.
The propane from the stainless steel tank is then lit to a flame of around eight feet and can have a heat rate of 12 million British thermal units per hour. Using blasts from the burner during the flight allows the pilot to manipulate the temperature.
Another way of heating the burner during flight is via cruise valve, this helps the pilot to keep the balloon at a steady temperature during flight, it essentially allows the pilot to fly the balloon automatically.
Other Required Equipment On A Hot Air Balloon
Now we covered the main parts of the hot air balloon and how they work, let’s move on to some other essential and non-essential types of equipment which are needed for a hot air balloon.
- Variometer – The variometer shows how fast the balloon races up to and down (vertical speed) and also the exact direction you are going whether up or down.
- Pyrometer – This is a sensor near the top of the balloon shape, it’s very important because it tells the temperature inside of the balloon, the pilot needs to monitor this, if the temperature becomes too high then it can damage the balloon.
- Altimeter – In feet above sea level, this allows the pilot to see how high they are in the air, essential for fuel supply.
- Sparker – A sparker is importantly for relighting the pilot light on a balloon in case it goes out, there are normally a few onboard for backup plus matches.
- Headgear – Helmets and headgear are always on board for all balloon passengers in case of a bumpy landing.
- Fuel gauge – One of the most important parts of hot air balloon piloting so that the pilot can monitor how much propane is left in the fuel tanks.
- First aid kit – Especially important for passenger balloons, medical equipment for treating burns is essential.
- Fire extinguisher – This is very important for tackling propane fires, there will be one in the chaser vehicle and one on the balloon.
- Protective clothing – The pilot especially will be wearing sunglasses or goggles to protect eyes from the burner as well as heat resistant gloves, long sleeve pants and tops.
- Transponders – This is not essential for an actual balloon flight but for long and high flights it is important you can contact people when flying, especially through any airport traffic zones.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Parts Of A Hot Air Balloon
Are hot air balloons dangerous?
No, hot air balloons are one of the safest forms of travel out there with injuries and crash being very rare.
What is the basket in a hot air balloon made out of?
Hot air balloon baskets are typically made out of rattan but can also be found in aluminum designs and fibreglass.
Is a larger balloon envelope better?
Not necessarily, a larger balloon envelope can carry more heat, so can carry and support more people, but it doesn’t mean the balloon performs any better.
How many propane gas tanks are on a hot air balloon?
Typically two, there is normally an extra propane gas tank for backup.
What is the wind speed of a hot air balloon?
Most hot air balloons can fly between 4-6 miles per hour but can go higher in non-stable winds, more than ten miles per hour is not recommended since it’s harder to fly.
Overall, the main parts of a hot air balloon are the envelope, burner and basket, the basket is essential for holding passengers, the burner keeps heat energy in the balloon making it light, and the envelope keeps it all inside.
Other essential equipment on hot air balloons include safety equipment to monitor fuel consumption and height as well as fire extinguishers in case of a propane fuel fire.
All equipment and parts of a hot air balloon have to pass certification and undergo checks before flying to keep passengers on board safe and avoid any incidents.
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!