This chapter presents an introduction to ballooning’s history, physics, basic balloon terms, balloon components, support equipment, and choosing a balloon.


The first manned aircraft was a hot air balloon. This balloon was built by the Montgolfier Brothers and flown by Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes on November 21, 1783, in France, over 120 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The balloon envelope was paper, and the fuel was straw which was burned in the middle of a large circular basket. Only 10 days later, Professor Jacques Charles launched the first gas balloon made of a varnished silk envelope filled with hydrogen. Thus, the two kinds of balloons flown today—hot air and gas—were developed in the same year.

Gas ballooning became a sport for the affluent and flourished on a small scale in Europe and the United States. Gas balloons were used by the military in the Siege of Paris, the U.S. Civil War, and World Wars I and II. In the last few decades, gas ballooning has been practiced primarily in Europe, particularly in the town of Augsburg, Germany, where an active club has arranged with a local factory to purchase hydrogen gas at a low price.

At the turn of the century, the smoke balloon—a canvas envelope heated by a fire on the ground— was a common county fair opening event. Today, there are only a few people who have ridden on the trapeze of a smoke balloon (called a hot air balloon without airborne heater). After the initial climb—about 3,000 feet per minute (FPM)—the hot air cools and the rider separates from the balloon, deploying a parachute to return to earth. Two chase crews were standard, one for the performer and one for the envelope.

In the 1950s, the U.S. Navy contracted with the General Mills Company to develop a small hot air balloon for military purposes. The Navy never used the balloon, but the project created the basis for the modern hot air balloon.

With the use of modern materials and technology, hot air ballooning has become an increasingly popular sport.


balloons and gas balloons. There is also the smoke balloon, which is a hot air balloon without an airborne heater, and the solar balloon, but they are rare and almost nonexistent. This handbook primarily covers hot air balloons.

Gas is defined as a substance possessing perfect molecular mobility and the property of indefinite expansion, as opposed to a solid or liquid.

The most popular gas used in ballooning is hot air. As the air is heated, it expands making it less dense. Because it has fewer molecules per given volume, it weighs less than non-heated ambient air (air that surrounds an object) and is lighter in weight.

As the air inside a balloon envelope is heated, it becomes lighter than the outside air the envelope, causing the balloon to rise. The greater the heat differential between the air inside the envelope and the air outside, the faster the balloon rises.

Hot air is constantly being lost from the top of the envelope by leaking through the fabric, seams, and deflation port. Heat is also being lost by radiation. Only the best and newest fabrics are nearly airtight. Some fabrics become increasingly porous with age and some colors radiate heat faster than others do. Under certain conditions, some dark-colored envelopes may gain heat from the sun. To compensate for heat loss, prolonged flight is possible only if fuel is carried on board to make heat.

To change altitude, the internal temperature of the air in the envelope is raised to climb, or allowed to cool to descend. Cooling of the envelope is also possible by allowing hot air to escape through a vent. This temporary opening closes and seals automatically when it is not in use.

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