1. Why do hot air balloon flights take place so early in the morning?
Hot air balloons need stable winds to operate effectively and the hours just following sunrise are the best for finding these winds. Since balloons move with the air, the weather is very important in deciding to whether or not to fly. The pilot chooses a launch site to use the wind currents to fly towards a suitable landing site.
2. What kind of cloth is the hot air balloon made of?
The colorful envelope is usually made of nylon or polyester, the same type of cloth that parachutes are made of. It is very tightly woven and is coated with a material that makes it very air tight. The nylon is only used to keep the hot air in the balloon. The basket load is transferred by steel or Kevlar cables to a series of vertical load tapes which carry the load. Balloons range in size from about 54,000 cubic feet for a one- or two-person balloon to over 250,000 cubic feet for a balloon capable of carrying a pilot plus eight or ten passengers.
The wicker basket has proven to be very strong for its weight and is flexible. The wicker is sometimes woven around a steel or aluminum frame, which helps to support the upright posts upon which the burner is mounted. The top rim of the basket and the uprights are usually padded and covered in suede or leather.
When the time comes to put the balloon up, the envelope is removed from the bag and laid out in a long line. The burners are attached to the uprights, and the basket is attached to the cables on the bottom of the envelope. An engine driven fan is used to inflate the envelope with cold air. When partially inflated, the air is heated by a burner and the envelope rises above the basket. With further heating, there is sufficient 'lift' for the balloon to fly.
To heat the air, the burners are fueled by propane gas, much the same as you probably use in your backyard barbecue grill. The burners do not run continuously; they are only used intermittently to heat the air to maintain the required lift.
You should wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There is really no need to dress up. Our weather can be interesting, so you should wear the type of clothing that you would expect to wear if you be going for a walk the day of the flight. A light jacket is sometimes comfortable in the fall or early spring. Women should wear pants or shorts, and layered clothing is much better than a heavy coat. Shoes should have flat soles (no heels, no sandals), and the majority of top clothing should be made of cotton rather than man-made fibers. Tall passengers may find a hat useful because of the radiant heat from the burners.
Yes, there is no problem in taking either a still or video camera with you during the flight. A hot air balloon makes a perfect camera platform and there is always plenty to photograph prior to, during and after to the flight. Hot air balloons provides a look at the area otherwise missed. We do recommend, however, that you have a suitable soft case with you in which to stow the camera during the landing phase of the flight.
From start to finish, your adventure will last about 3 hours. The inflation and preparation of the balloon normally takes about 30 minutes. The flight itself normally takes around one hour. After the flight, the ceremonies take about 30 minutes and travel to and from the hotel will take about another 30 minutes or so each way. The balloons always carry sufficient fuel for at least 2 hours flight time plus a 30 minute reserve capacity.
Good question! The simple answer is that nobody knows, exactly! The pilot will have done flight planning before the launch to ensure that the forecast wind direction does not take the balloon towards an unsuitable area. S/he will use the different air currents at different altitudes to steer the balloon toward a good landing place. The pilot also closely follows agreements with local landowners. This means that the balloon won't fly too close to livestock or land in areas planted with valuable crops.
Again...it depends on the wind speed. Hot Air Balloons travel with the wind and an hour flight can carry it up to 15 miles, sometimes more, sometimes less. The balloon also flies at different altitudes. Although the balloon is at the mercy of the wind when it comes to direction, the vertical control of a balloon can be very precise. It is not unusual for our pilots to be able to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of brush, or inches from the ground a leaf picked from a treetop is a very worthwhile souvenir of the flight!
Flying in a high sided balloon basket is not like standing in a roof or a high ladder. You don't get that vertigo feeling. It is more like the ground is unfolding beneath you, and, because you are moving with the wind, there is no wind blowing. The basket does not rock or sway so you can't possibly fall out.
16. How do we get back to the launch field or the hotel?
The balloon is followed by a chase vehicle and the crew. They are in constant contact with the balloon pilot by radio and should be at the landing site at the same time as the balloon. Once the balloon is packed away (and the ceremonies are complete) the chase vehicle will take you back.
Balloons are registered like any other aircraft and are subject to regular airworthiness checks. The FAA will not allow a balloon to be certified as airworthy unless these inspections and checks are done by authorized maintenance personnel and certified by them. All pilots are licensed by the FAA and have to pass regular flight checks.