Hot-Air Ballooning

Hot-air bag
  • Cheryl Davies, a hot-air balloon pilot, was interviewed by Safari magazine.  Cheryl is a balloon-ride operator, and knows a lot about hot-air ballooning.  She spoke to Safari about her love of flying and how she became interested in hot-air ballooning.  She also shared some interesting hot-air ballooning facts with us.

    What led you to become a hot-air balloon pilot? 
    I have always loved flying.  One day, a friend suggested we go hot-air ballooning. So I went along for the ride and loved it. I felt like a bird floating up in the air amongst the clouds. Three months later, I signed up to learn how to become a hot-air balloon pilot. 

    When is the best time, and what are the best conditions, for going up in a hot-air balloon? 
    The best time to launch a hot-air balloon is early in the morning at dawn. This is when the air is calm and cool.  A little wind is needed for hot-air ballooning, but not too much. Strong winds can cause a hot-air balloon to be carried a long way off course. We always phone the weather service to check the conditions before going up.  It is important to check the winds and make sure there are no storms moving into the area.  Once we are in the air, it is vital that I pay close attention to what the weather is doing.

    What has to be done to the balloon before take-off? 
    The balloon has to be set up before we can launch. Once we have decided that the weather is stable, the crew and I set up the equipment. The envelope, or fabric balloon, is pulled from its canvas bag and spread out on the ground. Thewicker basket is laid on its side next to the envelope. We then hook up cables attaching the envelope to the wicker basket. Once this is all done, we begin inflating the envelope with a gasoline-powered fan. When the envelope is three quarters fulI of air, the gas tanks are turned on and the burner ignites. As the burner heats the air inside the envelope, the balloon begins to rise. When the gas burner ignites, a long flame shoots out and a loud whooshing sound can be heard. I warn the passengers about this because the noise can give them quite a scare. 

    What type of gas do hot-air balloons use? 
    All modern hot-air balloons use Propane gas.

    Can you please explain how a hot-air balloon actually works
    It is really quite simple. The burner is used to fill the envelope with hot air. Because hot air is lighter than the cooler surrounding air the balloon rises, By heating the air in the envelope and not heating the surrounding air, the balloonist can control the balloon's altitude. 

    To descend, the pilot lets the air cool. If a more rapid descent is required, some of the hot air can be let cut through a valve at the top of the balloon. 

    There are no doors in the wicker basket, so how do you get into it? 
    Yes, you are right. Wicker baskets have no door so passengers must climb over the side of the basket to get in. We have a step hole in the side of the basket to assist passengers. We have to move very quickly. The crew members help us by jumping onto the sides of the wicker basket to hold it dawn while we scramble aboard. Once everyone is aboard, I then signal to the crew to release the balloon.

    What are the crew members' roles once you are in the air? 
    On the ground, the crew members quickly pack up then take off in the van. They must drive along the road following the course of the balloon. The people in the van are known as the "chase crew." They follow the balloon to make sure everything goes smoothly. I have a radio with me, which keeps me in touch with them.

    Is landing the hot-air balloon difficult?
    The landings can be difficult sometimes.  A landing area has to be chosen that suits the balloon and is accessible to the van.  It is sometimes hard to find a spot that the van can each.  The winds can sometimes do silly things, too, when we are trying to land.  I once heard of a pilot who got caught in an unusual wind and ended up landing in a prison yard.  You can imagine that that didn’t go down very well.  The prison guards thought he was there to help a prisoner escape.

    Is the balloon fiesta held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S, the biggest international gathering of hot-air balloons? 
    I am sure the Albuquerque fiesta must be the biggest international ballooning event. I went to the rally last year and what a sight it was. It was amazing!  There were over 700 hot-air balloons there. I had never seen so many balloons together at one time. 

    Describe some of the hot-air balloons you saw there. 
    I saw an elephant balloon, a giant cow balloon, and a goldfish balloon. I also saw two other crazy balloons - one was a computer and the other was a pizza!

    What is the biggest hot-air balloon in the world that you know of? 
    The biggest hot-air balloon I know of is the Energizer Bunny. It is 165.5 feet high (50.5 m) 15 feet (4.5 m) taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. The hare's ears alone are the height of an average-sized balloon. It took 15,000 feet (4,572m) of fabric and 84 miles (135 km) of thread to make the envelope.

    Do you know what passengers were in the first hot-air balloon ever launched? 
    A sheep, a duck and a rooster were the passengers in the first hot-air balloon.  Two French brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier launched the balloon. This was back on September 19, 1783. The flight lasted eight minutes and covered just over 1.8 miles (3 km).
    Who were the first people to go up in a hot-air balloon? 
    The Marquis d'Arlandes and Pilatre de Rozier were the first people in the world to travel in a hot-air balloon. They rode in the Montgolfier named after the brothers who built the balloon. It was launched in November 1783 from Paris, France. The historic flight lasted 22 minutes and covered 5 miles (8 km).

    There are many great adventurers in hot-air ballooning. Who do you admire the most? 
    I really admire Steve Fossett. He is a hot-air balloon pilot and a great adventurer. I admire his courage. Many times he attempted to fly around the world on his own. He kept failing but refused to give up. After trying for six years he finally made it. It took Just over 14 days for him to fly around the world in his hot-air balloon. Steve Fossett now holds the world record for his flight.

Hot-air ballon
Hot-air balloon
Hot-air balloon
Hot-air balloons


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    Text-to-text connections

    Prefix- inter (international)

    Suffix- al, ible (accessible)

    Vocabulary- Launch

    How Hot-Air Balloons Work Video