A hot-air balloon is an aircraft. It's made of three main parts --
a basket, a burner and an envelope, or balloon. The burner heats up air inside
the balloon, and physics takes care of the rest, propelling the whole contraption
into the wild blue yonder.
While the scientific principle behind ballooning may be simple, getting
a balloon in the air and piloting a balloon are not. A big part of this sport
is the challenge of preparing the balloon for flight, which is why there's
more to the sport than just catching a ride.
"For each balloon in the sky, it takes a dedicated ground crew of three
or four people to make the flight a success," says Tom Hamilton.
Typically, it takes four people to inflate a hot-air balloon -- one person
holding the crown line to the top of the envelope, two holding the mouth open,
and the pilot.
The typical sport balloon can hold two or three passengers plus a pilot,
but this doesn't usually mean the ground crew. They're needed on
the ground to follow the balloon in a chase vehicle to help in recovery after
|The Gatineau Hot-Air Balloon Festival is an annual gathering of hot-air
balloon enthusiasts. It's the fifth-largest balloon gathering in the
|Courtesy of: Gatineau Hot-Air Balloon Festival|
One of the challenges of piloting a balloon is controlling the flight in
strong winds. So, unless the pilot can find winds that will return him to
his launch site, they will need a ground crew to pick up the balloon where
"Pilots make up a small percentage of all those involved in ballooning.
Ballooning is really a group activity. Without the help of others, the pilot
is not going to accomplish much. Besides, it's fun to share the experience
of ballooning and flight with others," says Hamilton.
People who crew or fly balloons must be in good physical shape because
lifting and moving the gear can be heavy work. The pilots must be attentive
and adept at all ballooning techniques before they fly.
"Ballooning is done totally by feel. You have to plan in advance because
the balloon doesn't respond quickly. You're using different winds
to get where you want to go," says ballooning enthusiast Beth Wright Smith.
"You have to be constantly on top of it to make sure that it's doing
what it's supposed to be doing."
Balloonists usually prepare their flight in an open field and select their
flying weather carefully. Flat regions and mild weather conditions are ideal,
since mountainous ranges can be difficult to navigate.
Currently, there are over 5,000 active balloonists in the United States.
This number includes only those people actively involved in crewing or piloting.
Hot-air balloons can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000. A person
wishing to get a pilot's license can spend up to $3,000 for training
at a registered training school. Most people involved in ballooning, however,
don't spend anywhere near this amount of money.
"A lot of people get hooked into ballooning in a more casual way. Crewing
for someone is a real good way to get started because you see what it's
all about without spending any money," says Smith.
People who crew balloons don't require any gear to take part in the
sport. In fact, crew members can often get free pilot training from the experienced
balloon pilot they crew for. A number of people who pilot balloons also "co-own"
their balloon with one or two other people, which cuts down on the expense.
Many of the people who pilot balloons are also involved in other types
of aviation. Piloting balloons for recreation and flying planes or helicopters
for a living is good cross-training.
Other enthusiasts may find employment working for a ballooning school by
teaching new pilots or working on the administrative side of things.
Thinking about taking up ballooning? Here are some suggestions to set you
on your flight path. The best way to learn about ballooning is to find balloonists
in your area and ask if you can crew for them.
"Pilots are always looking for people to help them and will often give
a balloon ride for crewing a certain number of times," says Tom Hamilton.
Often, if a crew member does a good job and shows up regularly for flights,
the pilot they crew for may give them some lessons.
"Being a good crew member means being at the flight location when you say
you'll be there, working hard while you're there and having fun
doing it," says ballooning enthusiast Chris Thomas.
To find out about crewing opportunities, look in the phone book under "balloons,
manned." Or contact a ballooning organization.
The Balloon Federation of America recently created the Junior Balloonist
program. It provides recognition and education for young people between the
ages of seven and 17. It's designed for young people who crew for others.
There are a few formal ballooning schools in the U.S. which are geared
to teaching a pilot to fly in a relatively short period of time.
"These classes can be expensive. But from what I understand, they're
very intense and the people who learn to fly this way learn to fly well,"
Balloon Federation of America
P.O. Box 400
The Central Texas Ballooning Association
P.O. Box 2675
Balloon Life Magazine
Flying in a Hot-Air Balloon,
Cheryl Walsh Bellville
Free Spirits in the Sky,
John Christopher Fine
Click on Pilots Corner to read this informative series
International Ballooning Commission
Updates on international ballooning news from the Federation
The History of Hot-Air Ballooning
A timeline of ballooning
Bart's Special Shape Collection
Would you believe there's a balloon that looks like a marching
The Balloon Zone
A nice, informative site
World Wide Web Balloon Pages
Links to a large chunk of the ballooning Net sites available
Ballooning jargon, global weather forecasts, catalogs and mailing
Gatineau Hot-Air Balloon Festival
Annual gathering of hot-air balloon and airship enthusiasts!
Awesome photo gallery!