Balloon terms vary because proprietary terms and foreign terms have entered the language of ballooning. However, consistency in terminology is important because it makes it easier for the pilot, crew, and passengers to communicate with each other. The most common terms are used in the text and in the generic illustrations (refer to figure 1-1) in this handbook. Terms and names used by manufacturers are also included. The glossary contains balloon and aeronautical terms.


A hot air balloon consists of three main components: envelope, heater system, and basket.


The envelope is the fabric portion of the balloon containing the hot air and is usually made of nylon. The deflation port is located at the top of the envelope and allows for the controlled release of hot air. It is covered by the deflation panel sometimes called a top cap, parachute top, or spring top (refer to figures 1-2, 1-3, and 1-4). In a balloon with a parachute top, partial opening of the parachute valve is the normal way to cool the balloon. Balloons with other types of deflation panels may have a cooling vent in the side or the top.


Heater System

The heater system consists of one or more burners that burn propane, fuel tanks that store liquid propane, and fuel lines that carry the propane from the tanks to the burners. The burners convert cold (or ambient) air into hot air, which in turn provides the lift required for flight.


The basket (usually made of wickerwork rattan) contains the fuel tanks, instruments, pilot, and passengers.


Standard support equipment for ballooning is a an inflation fan, transport/chase vehicle, and small miscellaneous items, such as igniters, drop lines, gloves, spare parts, and helmets.

Inflation Fan

Fans come in different styles and sizes. Your finances, style of inflation, and size of the balloon will determine the best fan for you.

  • Weight—Someone will have to lift the fan into and out of the transport vehicle. Wheels do not help with the weight and are not helpful on soft ground. One person can carry a small fan, but a larger fan may take two people.
  • Safety—Fan blades today can be wood, aluminum, fiberglass, or composite, with wood being the most popular. Wood or aluminum blades designed specifically for balloon fan use are best. The fan should have a cowling of fiberglass or metal. A cage or grill alone is not sufficient to contain rocks or pieces of blade.
  • Transport—Space available in a pickup truck, the back of a van, or on a trailer may determine the size of the fan.
  • Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM)—Fan blade design, duct design, and engine speed determine the amount of air moved in a given time. Do not confuse engine size with CFM. Larger engines do not necessarily push more air. Moving a high volume of air is not necessarily the ultimate goal in fan performance. Some people prefer a slower cold inflation to allow for a thorough preflight inspection.
  • Fan Maintenance—The inflation fan is the most dangerous piece of equipment in ballooning. A good fan requires little maintenance and should be easy to maintain. Check the oil periodically and change it once a year. Check hub bolts and grill screws for tightness on a regular basis.
  • Fuel—Gasoline smells, spills, pollutes, and degrades in storage. Do not store gasoline in the fan due to fire hazard and the formation of varnish, which can clog fuel passages. Some gasoline fans can be converted to propane. Propane is clean, stores in a sealed tank, and does not change with age.
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