How to Fly a Hot Air Balloon
Flying a hot air balloon requires a pilot’s license, so you shouldn’t just borrow your neighbor’s basket without asking. But if you want to pick up a really interesting hobby – and a certification along the way – here’s how to get the best view of the local landscape.
1. Brush Up on Physics
Before you sail away, you’ll want to know how your craft works. Hot air balloons float because warm air is lighter than cool air, which makes the heated envelope of gas less dense than its surroundings. To get the balloon flying, the air inside is usually heated to over 200 degrees.
2. Light Your Fire
The job of doing the heating generally falls to a propane burner. Pilots should wear heavy gloves so they can safely touch hot parts of the burner while turning it on and off or making emergency repairs. The average balloon burns about 15 gallons of propane an hour.
3. Cast Off
To launch, a pilot and crew simply allow the burner to gradually heat the air inside the balloon. Once conditions are hot enough, the balloon will begin to rise above the ground, and the pilot and passengers can take off.
4. Blow In the Wind
Bad news for fans of precision steering: once the balloon goes up, you can really only control its altitude. Its course through the sky is determined by the wind, which is why pilots pore over wind charts and forecasts before flights. An experienced pilot can read the wind well enough to chart a predictable course, but this reliance on the breeze explains why it’s still wildly impractical to use a balloon for the daily commute.
5. Open Things Up
Once a pilot spots a good landing zone that’s free of trees and power lines, he radios to his ground crew to let them know where he’s setting the balloon down. Balloons are equipped with valves on the top that allow hot air to escape. Opening the valve allows the balloon to make a controlled descent. A skilled pilot won’t just slam the basket into the ground, instead they’ll skip the compartment several times to gently slow the descent.