Many companies manufacture balloons that are type-certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A type-certificated balloon has passed many tests, has been approved by the FAA, and conforms to the manufacturer’s Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS). Balloon size is rated by envelope volume. Following are the most popular sizes in use today.

Advantages of Balloon Sizes

Different balloon sizes offer different advantages. The size of the balloon purchased should be determined according to planned use(s). Most pilots think smaller balloons are easier to handle, fly, and pack-up. Bigger balloons use less fuel, operate cooler, and last longer. If you live in higher elevations or hotter climates, or if you plan to carry passengers, a larger balloon is preferred. If you plan to compete in balloon competitions or fly only for sport, a smaller balloon is more practical.

Selecting a New or Used Balloon

Should you buy a new or used balloon? The cost is the most obvious difference between new and used balloons. Some new pilots buy a used balloon to gain proficiency, and then purchase a new balloon when they have a better idea of what they want or need.

Balloon Brands

The level of after-sales service available—locally and from the manufacturer—is an important criterion in deciding which brand of balloon you should purchase. Talk to local pilots and ask questions. How does the local balloon repair station feel about different brands? Do they stock parts for only one brand? Does the manufacturer ship parts and fabric for balloons already in the field, or do they reserve these parts and fabric for new production? Will your balloon be grounded for lack of materials while new balloons are being built?

There are other criteria that could be considered, such as altitude at which the balloon will be flying, climate, and interchangeability of components, to give some examples. Before making your final decision, talk to people with different kinds of balloons and who do different kinds of flying. Crewing for different balloons is an excellent way to learn about the various kinds of balloons. Crewing on different balloons may help you decide on your first balloon purchase.

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