A hot air balloon experience must be one of the most exciting and interesting ways to experience flight. Obviously they can’t go very fast and are difficult to steer, but the feeling of the breeze in your face as you are gazing down at the surrounding countryside is an experience hard to beat.
The Montgolfier siblings who lived in Paris during the 1700s are famed with inventing hot air balloons that were able to carry passengers (unmanned hot air balloons are popular in Chinese history). The Montgolfiers carried out numerous experiments which culminated in the first manned flight of a hot air balloon. The passengers were Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis dArlandes in 1783. Before this the brothers had sent up an unusual trio of barnyard animals!
Hot air balloons work on the simple principle that hot air is lighter than cold air and it rises. Therefore, as the air within the balloon is heated up it starts to become warmer than the surrounding air and causes the balloon to rise taking the gondola with it.
What we think of as the balloon is actually called the envelope. Modern day envelopes tend to be made of nylon as it is airtight, strong and lightweight. More importantly, it is also heat resistant. The mouth of the balloon which is the part nearest to the gas burner is made from a fire resistant material such as Nomex. The burner uses propane fuel to send a jet of flame up into the envelope. Some people ask why the hot air doesn’t escape from the hole at the bottom of the envelope. The simple answer is because hot air is buoyant which means it can’t sink and come out of the bottom of the balloon.
Hot air balloons are made in many different sizes depending on their purpose. They normally carry between one to around 24 people. The part that passengers travel in is known as the gondola or more commonly the wicker basket. On some specialist high altitude or very long distance flights a capsule is used. The baskets are usually made from wicker, because it is flexible, lightweight and strong. Wicker is also excellent at absorbing the shock of a bumpy landing!
Hot air balloons are difficult to pilot and are usually flown in the early morning or evening. At these times of the day the air is at its most calm and, therefore, the flight will be more manageable for the pilot.
Hot air ballooning is probably one of the slowest and not always the safest way to fly, but as stated previously probably one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable ways to take to the skies. Hot air balloon experiences are certainly never dull and will be remembered forever by those who have given them a go!
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