Soaring Science of the Hot Air Balloon!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Hot Air Balloon Day
June 5th!

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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! 

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.

So, as we celebrate Hot Air Balloon Day this June 5th, check out these FUN FACTS we’ve collected regarding this simple and scientific marvel!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Rooster, a duck & a sheep get into a hot air balloon:

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.

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.

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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.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Finding Your Way:

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 the 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.

Image Source: Rainbow Ryders

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.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Colorful hot air balloons take to the sky at the Annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

Where in the World:

If you want to take a ride in the skies, one of the best places in the United States to give it a try is Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can take part in the 9-day festival that includes approximately 750 balloons from 18 countries across the globe. Or if you are feeling more adventurous, check out this list of the 17 Best Hot Air Balloon Rides in the World!

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 around the world offering once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon rides for a variety of occasions & reasons including sightseeing. 

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.

You’ll learn more interesting characteristics and heritage of this simple yet amazing activity as you enjoy your very own hot air balloon ride. But until then, check out these great resources that will keep you afloat! 


And if taking to the skies is not your cup of tea….or it’s simply not the right time, you can create your very own hot air balloon and test both your aviation & navigation skills with our at-home experiment:
Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloon.

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