Hot Air Balloon Frequently Asked Questions
Why do flights take place so early in the morning?
Balloons need stable winds to operate effectively and the hours just following sunrise are the best for finding these winds.
Since balloons move with the air, the weather is very important in deciding to whether or not to fly. The pilot chooses
a launch site to use the wind currents to fly towards a suitable landing site.
What kind of cloth is the balloon made of?
The colorful envelope is usually made of nylon or polyester, the same type of cloth that parachutes are made of. It is very
tightly woven and is coated with a material that makes it very air tight. The nylon is only used to keep the hot air in
the balloon. The basket load is transferred by steel or Kevlar cables to a series of vertical load tapes which carry the
load. Balloons range in size from about 54,000 cubic feet for a one- or two-person balloon to over 250,000 cubic feet for
a balloon capable of carrying a pilot plus eight or ten passengers.
Why is the basket made of wicker?
The wicker basket has proven to be very strong for its weight and is flexible. The wicker is sometimes woven around a steel
or aluminum frame, which helps to support the upright posts upon which the burner is mounted. The top rim of the basket
and the uprights are usually padded and covered in suede or leather.
How is the balloon inflated?
When the time comes to put the balloon up, the envelope is removed from the bag and laid out in a long line. The burners
are attached to the uprights, and the basket is attached to the cables on the bottom of the envelope. An engine driven fan
is used to inflate the envelope with cold air. When partially inflated, the air is heated by a burner and the envelope rises
above the basket. With further heating, there is sufficient 'lift' for the balloon to fly.
What kind of fuel is used for the burners?
To heat the air, the burners are fueled by propane gas, much the same as you probably use in your backyard barbecue grill.
The burners do not run continuously; they are only used intermittently to heat the air to maintain the required lift.
How tall are balloons?
Depending on the weight capacity, balloons may be as tall as 100 feet.
What should I wear?
You should wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There is really no need to dress up. You should wear the type of clothing
that you would expect to wear if you be going for a walk the day of the flight. A light jacket is sometimes comfortable
in the fall or early spring. Women should wear pants or shorts, and layered clothing is much better than a heavy coat. Shoes
should have flat soles, and the majority of top clothing should be made of cotton rather than man-made fibers. Tall passengers
may find a hat useful because of the radiant heat from the burners.
Can I take a camera?
Yes, there is no problem in taking either a still or video camera with you during the flight. A hot air balloon makes a
perfect camera platform and there is always plenty to photograph prior to, during and after to the flight. We do recommend,
however, that you have a suitable soft case with you in which to stow the camera during the landing phase of the flight.
How long does it all take?
From start to finish, your hot air balloon ride in Michigan will last about 3 hours. The inflation and preparation of the
balloon normally takes about 30 minutes. The flight itself normally takes around one hour. After the flight, the ceremonies
take about 30 minutes and travel to and from the hotel will take about another 30 minutes or so each way. The balloons always
carry sufficient fuel for at least 2 hours flight time plus a 30 minute reserve capacity.
Where will we land?
Good question! The simple answer is that nobody knows, exactly! The pilot will have done flight planning before the launch
to ensure that the forecast wind direction does not take the balloon towards an unsuitable area. S/he will use the different
air currents at different altitudes to steer the balloon toward a good landing place. The pilot also closely follows agreements
with local landowners. This means that the balloon won't fly too close to livestock or land in areas planted with valuable
How far will we fly?
Again...it depends on the wind speed. Hot Air Balloons travel with the wind and an hour flight can carry it up to 15 miles,
sometimes more, sometimes less. The balloon also flies at different altitudes. Although the balloon is at the mercy of the
wind when it comes to direction, the vertical control of a balloon can be very precise. It is not unusual for our pilots
to be able to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of brush, or inches from the ground A leaf picked from a treetop
is a very worthwhile souvenir of the flight!
How does the chase crew know where we are?
Radios are used to stay in contact with the chase crew as well as with Air Traffic Control and other aircraft flying in
How high do balloons fly?
Most balloonists enjoy low level flight. The typical balloon flight would be anywhere from tree level to about 3,000 feet
above the ground.
What if I'm afraid of heights?
Flying in a high sided balloon basket is not like standing in a roof or a high ladder. You don't get that vertigo feeling.
It is more like the ground is unfolding beneath you, and, because you are moving with the wind, there is no wind blowing.
The basket does not rock or sway so you can't possibly fall out.
I sometimes get airsick in airplanes. Is a balloon the same?
No. The turbulence which usually causes motion sickness is completely absent in a balloon ride. The flight of a balloon
is almost too smooth to describe.
Who can fly a hot air balloon?
The Federal Aviation Administration issues a Balloon Pilot Certificate to candidates who pass an FAA written examination,
obtain a prescribed number of hours in a balloon, make a solo flight to altitude, pass a flight test, and submit a medical
How are hot air balloon pilots licensed?
Balloons are registered like any other aircraft and are subject to regular airworthiness checks. The FAA will not allow
a balloon to be certified as airworthy unless these inspections and checks are done by authorized maintenance personnel
and certified by them. All pilots are licensed by the FAA and have to pass regular flight checks.
Who controls ballooning and ensures safety standards?
The Federal Aviation Administration controls ballooning with the same strict regulations that apply to airplanes.
How do you steer a hot air balloon?
The balloon goes wherever the wind takes it. However, pilots can seek higher or lower altitudes to find wind currents of
various direction. We refer to it as the truest form of sailing.
Is it cold in a balloon?
At high altitude, it is colder than at ground level, generally 3.5 degrees colder for each 1,000 feet of altitude.
What are the best conditions for flight in a balloon?
A balloon flies better in cooler weather since the hot air gets a better "lift." Balloonists usually fly just after dawn
or before dusk, because there is less wind at these times.
How large are hot air balloons?
Most balloons are larger than your house. They hold from 19,000 to 211,000 cubic feet of air and loom from 50 to 90 feet.
How does a hot air balloon differ from a gas balloon?
A hot air balloon gets its lift from heating the air with propane fuel. A gas balloon gets its lift from lighter than air
gases, usually helium or hydrogen.
What kinds of fabric are used?
Rip-stop nylon, dacron, taffeta and nylon ate the most common.
What are the baskets that hang from balloons made of?
Because weight is critical in balloon flying, the baskets are made of light materials such as wicker, fiberglass or aluminum.
Do balloons wear out?
If well taken care of, a balloon envelope should last approximately 500 flying hours.
What instruments do balloons use?
An altimeter to indicate altitude, a variometer showing its rate of climb or decent, a compass to show directions, and a
temperature gage to show how hot the fabric is at the top of the balloon. Each propane tank has a fuel gauge, and the burner
has a fuel pressure gauge.