Hot Air Ballooning
Hot Air Ballooning
Ballooning was developed in the 1700s and has since become a passion for all ages in communing with nature. “A balloon is like a leaf on a stream, buffeted and swirled in every eddy, uncontrollable except in altitude: a willing victim of the movement of invisible forces.”
There are two types of balloons in existence today, gas and hot air. In comparison with the gas balloon, the hot air balloon is cheaper and safer. The gas balloon is filled with hydrogen or helium, which is highly explosive. The gases referred to above are used because they are “lighter” than the atmosphere. Because the gas has to remain in the envelope (balloon), it is sealed. The hot air balloon is filled with warmed air also “lighter” than the atmosphere, but the air has to be reheated periodically by the burners to maintain height. For the air to be warmed, the envelope must remain open.
There are three main parts of a balloon: the envelope, the gondola (basket), and the fuel system. The envelope is made of strong, ripstop, heat-resistant nylon. A typical envelope when inflated holds seventy to eighty thousand cubic feet of hot air. It measures fifty to fifty-five feet across and sixty-five to seventy-five feet tall. The gondola varies in size and can be made of any of the following: rattan, fiberglass, aluminum, and wood, and canvas. The fuel system consists of two to four propane tanks and two Bunsen-style burners. Propane is cheap and twenty gallons will usually give two to four hours’ worth of flying time. Most balloons have an instrument panel consisting of the following: altimeter, rate-of-climb indicator (orvariometer), compass, and pyrometer (measures temperature at the top of the envelope).
All balloons are custom-built, prices ranging from $5,500 to $8,500. This includes the envelope, the gondola, the burner, the fuel tanks, and the instruments. Raven, Piccard, Semco, Barnes, and Carmeron are five well-known balloon manufacturers.
The step-by-step procedures for inflating and launching a hot air balloon are as follows:
- begin soon after sunrise;
- locate a clear launch site;
- tip gondola on the side;
- spread out envelope;
- hold the open mouth of the envelope;
- check fuel and heat systems (sniff test and firing of burners);
- puff balloon with cold air;
- activate burner and crack open the blast value;
- crewmembers hold the mouth of envelope away from flames;
- as the balloon moves upright, the man on blast moves to gondola;
- when the temperature is ready, the pilot gives the command “handoff.”
- For the balloon to lift the air inside must be at least one hundred degrees warmer than the outside air.
In landing, the dragline is thrown out and the deflation port opens allowing the hot air to escape, causing the balloon to slowly descend.
Hazards to the balloon are unpredictable winds, power lines, loss of gas, rough landing, or finding nowhere to land. The preceding hazards can be avoided by following these safety measures: launching just after dawn, landing by noon, launching from open fields, wearing crash helmets, carrying safety equipment (draglines, 2-way radios, cell phone, and walkie-talkies), and having balloon checked yearly or after every one hundred hours of flying. It headed into something, the options are open burners full throttle, pull rip panel cord or jump from the balloon. Nevertheless, “the Federal Aviation Administration, which monitors the sport, rates it safer than any other form of flight.”
Sails, oars, and steam engines were all early attempts in steering a balloon. The only way of steering is to find winds blowing the direction desired.
There are two kinds of licenses: the Private Pilot Free Balloon Certificate and the Commercial Pilot Free Balloon Certificate. The private license must be acquired before the commercial. The requirements in getting a private license are as follows: must be sixteen; must have ten hours in a balloon; six flights with an instructor, two flights of half an hour each at least 3,000 feet high; one solo flight; and must pass a written, a flight, and an oral exam. To get a commercial license, the requirements are as follows: twenty hours in a balloon; a private license; two solo flights, one hour long and 5,000 feet high; and fifteen hours as pilot of any other type of aircraft.
The National Hot Air Balloon Championship is hosted by the Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. They have hosted it since 1970. It takes place in August, lasting six days with over 200 balloons competing in five specific events. To be able to participate in the championship, pilots must have fifty hours flying time and the pilot must have flown in three previous Balloon Federation of America rallies. Some of the events are the Le Mans takes off, the hare and hounds, and the tumbleweed drop. The Le Mans takeoff is a race to: inflate the envelope and fly to finish line several miles away. The hare and hounds are a balloon chase. The hare balloon takes off ten minutes ahead of the hounds. The hare balloon flies for around forty-five minutes and then lands. The hounds have to track it down and land as close as possible. The tumbleweed drop is trying to hit an “X” on the ground with a clump of tumbleweed released from 500 feet up. A different kind of competition is the Bennett Gas Balloon Race, held annually from 1906 until 1938. It was held again in 1979, in Long Beach, California. There were seventeen balloons from ten countries participating. The winner was the Double Eagle III going 617 miles in forty-seven hours.
On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, one rooster, one sheep, and one duck were launched into the air as the first aeronauts in a hot air balloon. The first men to go up in a hot air balloon were Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis d’Arlandes. They were launched on November 21, 1783, at Chaleu Park of La Muette. The flight lasted for twenty-five minutes and reportedly went to the height of 3,000 feet. The first men launched in a gas balloon were Jacques Charles and one of the Robert brothers on December 1, 1783.
There have been very few deaths in ballooning. The first person killed was Pilatre de Rozier. In 1976, there were six people killed; in 1977, there were two people killed. In 1970, nineteen years old, Sylvie Allione did not make it inside of the gondola after takeoff and was left clinging on to the gondola for 320 feet in the air; then she fell to her death.
The inventors of the first hot air balloon were Joseph and Eteinne Montgolfier from France. Their paper and silk model balloon was launched on June 5, 1783. The balloon was thirty-five feet high, rising 6,000 feet, and staying in the air ten minutes. The inventors of the first gas balloon were Professor Jacques Charles, Charles Robert, and M.N. Robert. They used “water-gas,” now known as hydrogen, to fill the balloon. The balloon known as the Charliere was launched on August 27, 1783.
There have been many special gas balloons made. The following are their names, achievements, and other details. The Stratosphere, launched on May 27, 1931, in Augsburg, Germany. The Aeronauts of the balloon were Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer. The balloon reached 51,000 feet the first ascension, and on the second ascension reached 54,000 feet on August 18, 1932. Russia’s Stratosphere achieved an outstanding height of 69,000 feet in 1933. Explorer I, the joint project of the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Army Air Corps, was launched on July 28, 1934, attaining the altitude of 60,613 feet. The Explorer II set a record that endured for twenty-two years. It was launched on November 11, 1935, and reached 72,395 feet. Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, U.S. Air Force, launched the Excelsior III on August 16, 1960, attaining the height of 102,800 feet. The Strato-Lab High 5 was launched on May 4, 1961, and reached a height of 113,740 feet.
Soon men became interested in greater conquests. The English Channel was crossed by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr. Jefferies on January 7, 1785. The first balloon to cross North America was the Kitty Hawk in 1980. The pilot was Maxie Anderson flying a seventy-five-foot teardrop, made of polyethylene, filled with 200,000 cubic feet of helium. The first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean was in 1873, three Americans failed. In 1881, another failed attempt to cross. In 1958 four Britishers tried the East-West crossing, until this time there had been eleven attempts and failures. In 1978, Ben Abrusso and Maxie Anderson, flying the Double Eagle I, failed after sixty-four hours and 2,950 miles. The first balloon to conquest the Atlantic was the Double Eagle II in 1978. The pilots were Ben Abrusso, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, making the 3,100 mile trip in five days, seventeen hours, and six minutes. The balloon was sixty-five feet in diameter and ninety-seven feet high. The gondola was seventeen feet by six and a half feet by six feet shaped like a boat. In 1971, twenty-six-year-old Robert Waligunda crossed the Grand Canyon.
The balloon has been used in a number of unusual situations. Eight East Germans made a balloon and crossed over to freedom in West Germany in it. During the Civil War, it was used for spying. In the Franco-Prussian War, there were sixty-five built, some lifting off with 164 passengers and 20,000 pounds of mail, all safely delivered over the German lines.
Once one has experienced the pleasure of floating with the winds he has to experience it again. Once you’ve picked cherries while floating past a tree, or watched deer scampering through the woods, or stared eyeball to eyeball at bewildered geese as you float through their formation, it’s all over. You’ll have to do it again.