Written by: on October 29, 2013 @ 1:39 pm


Image Source: Pixabay.com

How many balloons does it take for a person to fly? The correct answer is one. And we’re not talking about holding on for dear life at the end of a balloon on a rope. We’re talking about a giant balloon with a basket under it… a Hot Air Balloon! Set within National Aviation History Month, November 21st marks the 230th Anniversary of the first manned hot air balloon flight!  

Now we all know what a balloon is. It’s basically a flexible bag filled with air or some kind of gas. And we often associate them with kid’s parties, but believe you me there’s a lot more to the story of balloons than cakes and clowns.

Today, balloons of all shapes and sizes are used for all sorts of things, from lighting up sporting events to advertising. Film companies use them for lighting and providing birds eye views of football games.  And scientists use them to gather vital information from the Earth’s atmosphere, and even occasionally send them into space.  Oh, and they’re also quite fun to fly and are, in fact, man’s oldest form of manned-air transport.

Hot air balloons are an odd flying apparatus. They don’t look like anything else that flies. They aren’t used like other flying objects to get people from one place to another. They only are flown at certain times and in certain conditions. They don’t have a motor or anything mechanical with moving parts. Hot air balloons operate solely based on the magic and simplicity of science and physics.


1. A Rooster, a duck & a sheep get into a hot air balloon. No, it’s not a bad joke… its history! 

In 1783, the first hot air balloon was set to fly over the heads of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court in Versailles. Like monkeys in space, this odd assortment of animals was chosen to test the effects of flight. Sheep, thought to be similar to people, would show the effects of altitude on a land dweller, while ducks and roosters, which could already fly (albeit at different heights), would act as controls in the experiment. The balloon flew on a tether for 8 minutes, rising 1500 feet into the air and traveling 2 miles before being brought safely to the ground.

2. Up, Up & Away: 

Of course it wasn’t long before humans followed where those fearless farmyard animals led and balloons were taking to the skies around the world. One hundred and twenty years before the Wright brothers took to the skies, the world’s first manned-balloon vessel, constructed by the Montgolfier brothers, soared over France on November 21, 1783. The historic flight was piloted by physics professor Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier & infantry major François Laurent d’Arlandes.

3. Rise & Fall of Olympic Ballooning:

Considered to have been a demonstration sport, hot air ballooning enthusiasts saw their hopes of becoming official Olympians rise and fall all during the 1900 Olympic Games.

All in all, 61 men and 3 women competed in ballooning, which consisted of 18 events. Judges marked contestants on various points, like distance, duration and elevation.

4. A Makeover for the Ages:

Although ballooning has been around for a very long time, hot air balloons as we know them today, with their wicker baskets, propane burners, and teardrop shapes are really a relatively recent invention, dating in fact from the 1960s.

The first ones were funded by the US Navy, but the public loved them too and the sport of hot air ballooning was back in the public eye more than 170 years after its invention.

5. Rainy Skies… No One Flies:

Hot air balloon flights are not possible during the rain. The heat produced by the balloon is hot enough to boil the water on the top of the balloon which can destroy the fabric.


When the forecast calls for sunshine, rides are usually launched early in the morning when the atmosphere is calmer.

6.  Reaching New Heights in Science:

A team of researchers in the U.S. and Europe are working to use hot air balloons as a new, more efficient way to explore space. This group of scientists has devised a system for exploring the universe through a telescope that will hover over 99 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. 

And that telescope will be hanging from a… you guessed it, a hot air balloon!

7. One for the Record Books:

The longest balloon flight was by the Virgin Pacific Flyer piloted by Per Lindstrand from Sweden and Richard Branson from the UK. They flew from Japan to Northern Canada on January 15, 1991.

8. Finding Your Way:

Touring the skies in a hot air balloon is one of the most fun and exciting things a person can do. The ability to hop into a conveyance that has been around since pre-revolutionary France is a rarity in the 21stCentury. Despite modern day technology, balloonists still use basic scientific methods & tools to navigate their way through the skies.

Balloon pilots use an instrument called a Piball to see the exact location that wind blows. It is simply a helium filled balloon. This method helps pilots see if the wind may potentially bring the balloon into restricted airspace and dangerous locations.

9. Chasing the Dream:

Balloon flights have a chase crew. True to its term, this is a ground crew that follows the balloon’s flight all through the entire trip. The chase crew have vehicles with room to accommodate passengers, the pilot and the balloon itself that can weigh over 250 lbs.

10. A Day at the Races: 

Albuquerque, New Mexico hosts the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The festival is a nine day event that includes approximately 750 balloons from 18 countries across the globe.

This year marked the 42nd year in which the Balloon Fiesta has filled Albuquerque’s crystal blue skies. The Balloon Fiesta is still the premier international ballooning event, powered by the perfect October climate and a phenomenon called the “Albuquerque Box.”  This phenomenon is the perfect combination of weather patterns and geographic landscape, allowing balloonists to control and even retrace their adventure.

You don’t need to wait for a hot air balloon festival to experience ballooning first hand. For many people, taking to the skies afloat a giant balloon is a thrilling adventure because it allows for a real sense of flight. In recent years, companies have popped up across the globe offering once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon rides for a variety of occasions & reasons including sightseeing. 

Fall is the perfect time to celebrate the Hot Air Balloon’s anniversary & Aviation History month! If colored leaves are your cup of tea, then you can experience a whole new level of sightseeing by floating your way through the vibrant foliage. From the Grand Canyon to the Grand Caymans, sightseeing as you soar in a balloon allows you to interact with nature the old-fashioned way that rises above the modernization & evolution of aviation.

Ten items is not enough to be in the know about hot air balloon facts. More interesting characteristics and heritage of this simple yet amazing activity will be imparted to you as you take on a flight on  your very own hot air balloon ride. But until then, check out these great resources that will keep you afloat! 


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