Modern Physics

Hot air balloon: history, features, parts, how it works

A hot air balloon is a blimp that lifts loads and people through the air and works on the principle of buoyancy. Requires no wings, paddles or motor to climb. It is enough that, in a bag, balloon or balloon, a lighter gas is closed than the surrounding air.

This gas is usually hot air as, being lighter than the surrounding cold air, it allows it to rise or float. Attached to the globe is a basket or cabin where cargo and/or passengers are placed.

Hot air balloons generally don’t have any type of propeller; therefore, the direction of flight is determined by the wind, although most hot air balloons have a system that allows you to control their height.

Hot Air Balloon History

Credit for the invention of the hot air balloon goes to the Montglofier brothers, Joseph – Michel and Jacques – Étienne, who publicly showed it on June 4, 1783 in France, although their first models were made a year earlier.

Joseph and Etienne had dreamed of flying for a long time, but they had not found a way.

Inspiration came to them when Joseph held his shirt by his neck in the hot air rising up the chimney and realized that the air could lift him. They understood that warm air is lighter than cold and therefore floats.

So the task was to put that air in a bag big enough to lift a load. Obviously, the larger the charge, the larger the volume of the bag that would contain the hot air.

In September 1782, they built a balloon with a cubic meter capacity, which they filled with hot air that managed to rise up to thirty meters in height. which continued their experiments.

In April 1783, they managed to erect a balloon 10 meters in diameter, 850 cubic meters in volume, up to 365 meters in height. In June of the same year, they made a public demonstration of the invention.

The demonstration before King Louis XVI

The great demonstration took place in September 1783, in Versailles, in front of the eyes of King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, the entire French court and an audience of 130 thousand people, who were perplexed by the demonstration.

Aboard the balloon basket at Versailles in September 1783 was a rooster, a sheep and a duck. A month later, the first flight of a human being in a hot air balloon took place.

The first man to soar into the sky with a hot air balloon was Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier (October 1783). Sadly, two years later, Jean-François and a companion died in a hot air balloon accident.

Another historic landmark occurs in 1792, when the hot air balloon is first used for military purposes. The demonstration of the Royal College of Artillery of Segovia was held in the presence of King Charles IV of Spain.

In October 1797, André Jacques Garnerin took the first parachute jump from a hot air balloon flying through the Parisian skies.


The main features of a hot air balloon are:

– It cannot be said that it is a flying device, but a floating device.

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– Proper airflow conditions are required to ensure buoyancy and safety.

– Has a strong, lightweight fabric casing or balloon that is filled with hot air.

– The air filling the envelope is heated by gas burners.

– Cargo and crew enter a basket hanging in the world and it is made with light materials.

Hot air balloon parts

The three main parts of a hot air balloon are:

– The package.

The burners.

-The basket or biscuit.

The wrap or candle is bulky or balloon-shaped and is made of lightweight, waterproof strips of fabric which are sewn together to give it a spherical shape.

Currently, the fabrics and yarns used to make the wrap are made of nylon or polyester fiber, but it should be noted that these fibers did not exist when the first hot air balloons appeared. Nylon fiber was invented in 1938 and polyester in 1946. The packaging of the first balloons was made of silk or paper.

The function of the candle or casing is to store the hot air and ensure the buoyancy of the hot air balloon. Although the fabric is resistant, it is necessary, when making the candle, to place longitudinal and transversal reinforcement tapes.

The upper plug has an overlapping or slit valve, known as stops – falls , which is operated by a cord which when pulled by the pilot allows hot air to escape so that the rise or height can be controlled.

Burners and fuel

On the outer top of the sail, ropes are attached to the end of the load belts and help inflate and deflate the sail.

The burners are oriented so that the fire points towards the entrance or mouth of the envelope.

The fuel used to heat the air and fill the envelope is propane. The propane tanks used to fill the air balloon at first remain on the ground. On board, there can be other smaller ones that we could call maintenance tanks.

The basket or hot air balloon basket is still constructed of rattan. Other light and resistant materials were tested, but wicker still has four main characteristics: it is cheap, light, resistant and absorbs the impacts of landing.

The basket floor is made of plywood and has steel cables that encircle it vertically and longitudinally to be hooked to the spark plug reinforcement strips and burner brackets.

modern equipment

In addition to this basic equipment, balloon teams currently have some flight instruments, such as:

– Altimeter.

– Thermometer


– Fire extinguishers.


– radio equipment.


Before operating a balloon, you must keep in mind all the preparations, among them and not least to choose the flight location correctly.

In this election, it should be taken into account that the site does not have high voltage towers or cables, the direction and speed of the wind and to which area the balloon will be directed.

To inflate the balloon or candle, it is placed on the ground and, by means of a fan, it is filled with hot air. The detailed inflation process is as follows:

– The sail is stretched by unfolding it horizontally, using the load belts on both sides. At least two people are required for this operation.

Inflate hot air balloon. Source: pixabay

– It is very important to check that the seals or velcro on the parachute or crown valve are sealed so that hot air does not escape during balloon inflation.

– The sail is filled with the help of fans which, if powerful enough, inflate the balloon. The burners are then lit to introduce more hot air to complete the candle filling.

– With the candle open and held by at least two people, the burners are directed towards the interior of the globe and lit for brief intervals until the balloon rises and tightens the cables and ropes that secure it to the basket. The basket must be grounded to avoid unwanted lifts.

– Once filled with hot air, the candle rises, indicating that the balloon is ready for use. The balloon must be secured to the ground to prevent it from getting out of control.

How to maneuver the balloon?

When you release the loops, the balloon rises. Its direction is determined by air currents. However, at different heights, these currents can have different directions; therefore, by controlling the height, it is also possible to choose the direction of flight.

When you want to go up or you want to maintain height, the burners are activated, but to lower them they are turned off, so the air inside the balloon cools and becomes heavier so that it starts descending.

If it is observed that the descent is too fast, the burners must be activated again to reduce the descent speed.

It is very important that once the basket touches the ground, passengers remain in the basket until it is completely tied to the ground. Otherwise, the balloon may start to rise again and cause an unwanted accident.

Types of Hot Air Balloons

Hot air balloons can be classified into several types depending on their characteristics such as whether they have some sort of steering system.

-No airship balloons

They do not have a propulsion system, so their displacement in distance and direction is determined by atmospheric currents.

They have a bag or large candle that holds the air that heats a burner located in the inlet or lower mouth of the candle, which directs hot air inside.

In this type of balloon, the crew and passengers enter a basket that is attached to the sail using cables and straps.

Maneuvers are limited to control of ascent and descent. However, at different heights, the air currents can point in different directions, which gives this type of hot air balloon a certain amount of directionality.

– airships airships

Sometimes they are known by the name of aircraft or the German zeppelin . The main feature is that they have a propulsion engine that allows them to decide and maintain the direction of flight, even against the wind.

Typically, the balloon or sail is closed and filled with a gas that is lighter than air, such as hydrogen or helium. Hydrogen is highly flammable, while helium as a noble gas is not at risk of catching fire or exploding. In airships, the height of the globe is relatively constant.

Mixed hot air balloons

They are those that have a portion of light gas, such as helium, wrapped in balloons that reduce the total weight, but also have the candle that is filled with hot air from the burners. They may or may not have a propulsion system.

– Manned and unmanned balloons

Another possible classification of balloons is whether or not they carry crew members.

Unmanned Hot Air Balloons

They are often used for advertising purposes at fairs and other events. They are strung at a constant height. These types of balloons use gas instead of hot air.

Among the unmanned balloons are weather balloons, which permanently ascend and send data to the ground via radio signals. These data are height, temperature, wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure and other data of interest.

manned hot air balloons

They require a crew member and are usually hot air. This type of balloon is used by flying enthusiasts, but it can also have commercial and touristic purposes. There are also competitions where start and finish points are established and the ability of crew members to achieve the proposed objectives is evaluated.

How to Make a Homemade Hot Air Balloon

Next, we’ll walk you through the basics of building a homemade hot air balloon that actually rises.

This type of balloon is also marketed under the name of wish balloons , because a wish is usually made when it increases.


– A big one used ​​for the trash, trying to make it out of thin plastic, not the ultra strong ones that are made out of thicker plastic.

– A pair of thin but stiff strands. The wire used in construction can be used. The hanger wires are too thick and heavy ​​(they don’t work for the experiment)

– Thin copper wire or used for flower arrangements.

– A cotton grain or toilet paper.

– Alcohol to burn.

– Alcohol burner.

– Four pieces of duct tape.


– Open the bag so that measurements can be taken from the bag’s open mouth.

– After taking the measurements, we cut two strands that come together to form a cross, the purpose of which is to keep the lower end of the bag wide open. The ends of these threads should be L-bent with a length of approximately 1 cm.

– To join the cross, we use fine copper wire. Also at the intersection of the two threads, we repair the cotton stain or toilet paper that impregnate with burning alcohol.

– We fix the cross on the open end of the bag so that it is fully open.

– Then we hold the bag on top so that it takes the shape of a balloon.

– To heat the air inside the bag, at first an alcohol burner is placed on the floor, which will make the hot air enter the bag and move to the cold air.

– When you observe that the bag is well swollen, the stain or the cotton paper that is on the base in the shape of a cross lights up and the balloon is released as soon as we realize that it wants to go up.

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