Ballooning 101

So you want to know about hot air balloons. You have seen them in the sky, and want to know how they work. Here’s some Frequently Asked Questions about how balloons work:

Can you steer the balloon?
Yes and no. There is no direct mechanical means of controlling lateral movement for a hot air balloon, but a change in direction can be achieved by utilizing the wind currents at hand. Sometimes, at different altitudes, the wind will vary in general direction. By climbing or descending into these layers of air, the pilot is able to manoeuvre the balloon onto a preferred line of travel.

How long are the flights?
On average, flights are approximately one hour in length. Some flights can vary from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on the amount of fuel on board, the passengers’ combined weight, the temperature of the air and when the pilot finds a suitable landing field.

What time of day do the flights take place?
Flights take place at sunrise and approximately 2 hours prior to sunset. Hot Air Balloons are not able to fly during the middle of the day due to thermal activity, which makes the air unstable.

What type of weather conditions are needed to fly in a hot air balloon?
Hot Air Balloon flights take place in winds less than 10 knots, with no rain or approaching storms in the immediate area. Flights also require visibility of at least 4 km.

What type of clothing should we wear?
Special clothing is not required for hot air ballooning. We always suggest practical wear, such as long pants, a light jacket, a hat and no sandals or high heels. We do not fly high enough for a change in temperature so plan to dress for the temperature of the day.

Can I bring my camera and binoculars?
Yes, we encourage it. Some of the greatest pictures of the surrounding area can be taken from 500 feet in the air. Don’t forget to bring batteries for your camera and a protective case for landing.

Can you fly during the winter?
Yes, some of the best flights take place during the fall and winter months. During this time, visibility is usually unlimited.

Is it cold up there?
No, it is the same temperature on the ground as it is in the air. The temperature only begins to drop when you begin to fly very high.

How big is the hot air balloon?
A small Hot Air Balloon is 77,000 cubic ft. That is approximately 80 feet high and 60 feet in diameter. An average of 3 passengers and the pilot can fly in a balloon of this size. Some larger balloons can carry 8-12 passengers.

What makes the hot air balloon rise?
Hot Air! High-powered propane burners ignite and heat liquid propane that is aimed into the balloon to make it rise. The burners create 30 million BTU’s of heat. In comparison, an average home barbecue generates 30,000 BTU’s. Each flight uses approximately 100 litres of propane.

How fast do you fly?
The balloon travels the same speed as the wind. An average flight is approximately 15 km in length.

Can anyone fly the balloon?
To fly a hot air balloon you must be a licensed balloon pilot. Much like a fixed wing pilot, balloon pilots go through extensive training including ground school, written exams and hands-on flying.A balloon pilot must have a minimum of 50 hours experience to fly passengers in Canada.

What is the balloon made of?
Balloons are made from rip-stop nylon much like a winter ski jacket. Yet unlike a jacket, the balloon is coated in a special chemical to help it resist heat and last longer. Balloons have an average life expectancy of 300 hours of use. Manufacturers have many different colours of fabric to choose from to create the many different patterns seen flying through the sky.

How high do you fly?
Though the altitude record for hot air ballooning is 90,000 feet, the height of passenger flights range anywhere from treetops up to 2,500 feet.