This chapter introduces inflation, launch, and landing. It also provides useful information on landowner relations.


The inflation procedure takes the balloon envelope from a pile of fabric to a spheroid capable of lifting a load. The pilot’s goal should be a smooth, controlled inflation that does not damage the environment, the balloon, or harm the crew. At the end of the inflation, the balloon should be upright, close to equilibrium, and ready to fly.

Historical Background

When the modern hot air balloon was being invented, one of the first pieces of inflation equipment was a relatively huge squirrel cage centrifugal blower—the type seen on roofs of old buildings. Because of its design, with the engine off to the side, and out of the airstream, this type of blower could be used to pump warm air into the envelope. A wand-type propane device, similar to present-day weed burners, heated the air. The flame was held in front of the blower inlet, thus air was heated prior to entry in the envelope.

Because the blower was noisy, bulky, expensive, and potentially dangerous, many early balloonists chose to do flap inflation. Two or three people would stand at the mouth of the balloon, with their backs to the basket. Each person would grasp the upper lip of the mouth with widely spaced hands. As the flappers moved the upper lip up and down in unison, the envelope would partially fill with ambient air.

A couple of other early inflators are worthy of comment. Some pilots, trying to avoid smelly, flammable gasoline, used electric fans. Automobile or truck radiator fans were tried, but their small size made inflation very slow. Another attempt was to attach radiator fan blades directly to an automotive starter motor, plugged into the chase vehicle battery. The motor drew so much power from the battery that the battery would die. The solution was to keep the vehicle engine running to keep the battery charged. The fan, however, was still essentially gasoline powered, polluted the air, and required the chase vehicle to be parked too close to the balloon.

Today most hot air balloons are inflated with commercially built or homemade gasolinepowered, propeller-bladed, inflation fans. Another type of fan you might see in use today is a small, propane-powered, 3-horse power (HP), aluminumbladed, ducted, axial fan.

Inflation Style

There are many different styles of inflation. Some pilots use one or two large fans to inflate the balloon fast and get it tight. Some pilots prefer to fill the envelope slowly to give them time for preflight preparation. Some use many crewmembers, some use only a few crewmembers. Balloon size, available crew, weather, location, and personal preference are factors that determine procedures and number of crewmembers.

Typically, for an average balloon, an inflation crew of three is optimum, with the pilot at the burners and the other two people at the mouth. In windy or crowded situations, it is important to have a fourth person holding the crown line.

If inflation requires more crew than usual, due to the windy conditions, you should consider canceling the flight. Although the balloon may get airborne, chances are that flying out of your comfort zone and having to prepare for a very windy landing may impair concentration. The distraction may hinder safe, enjoyable flying.

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