The mascots of the 2012 Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, the hot air balloons never fail to draw excitement. Last year saw over two dozen balloons from eleven countries, all piloted by volunteers who have come to love the friendly people and balmy skies of the Philippines.
Hot Air Balloons – More fun in the Philippines
Many of our balloons come in special shapes, including farmhouses, mushrooms, and even Darth Vader! The balloons launch early in the morning when the cool air allows them the most lift. One balloon, the ‘hare’ goes first, and the other launch together minutes afterward in an attempt to land as close to its landing zone as possible.
Hot air balloons have no engines and no way to steer – they go where the wind takes them. Skilled balloonists try to fly at altitudes where the winds are favorable. Once everybody takes off, chase crews in four-wheel drive vehicles fan out across the countryside to meet up with their assigned balloons once they land.
It’s complex, spectacular, and incredibly fun to watch – but don’t take our word for it!
Pro Tip: Don’t have the $200 contribution needed for a balloon ride? There’s usually a tethered balloon on the grounds so you and your family can experience going up in a balloon without having to worry about where to land! Lines may be long, chase crew not included.
- The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. It is in a class of aircraft known as balloon aircraft.
- The first clearly recorded instance of a balloon carrying passengers used hot air to generate buoyancy and was built by the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier in Annonay, France. After experimenting with unmanned balloons the first tethered balloon flight with humans on board took place on October 15, 1783. The first free flight with human passengers took place on November 21, 1783.
- A hot air balloon consists of a bag called the envelope that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket which carries passengers and (usually) a source of heat, in most cases an open flame. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope.
- In today’s sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric and the mouth of the balloon (closest to the burner flame) is made from fire resistant material such as Nomex.
- The traditional shape of a hot air balloon is an “inverted tear drop” shape. Beginning in the mid-1970s, balloon envelopes have been made in all kinds of shapes, such as hot dogs, rocket ships, and the shapes of commercial products, though the traditional shape remains popular for most non-commercial, and many commercial, applications.
- Hot air balloons are able to fly to extremely high altitudes. On November 26, 2005, Vijaypat Singhania set the world altitude record for highest hot air balloon flight, reaching 21,027 m (68,986 ft). He took off from downtown Mumbai, India, and landed 240 km (150 mi) south in Panchale. The previous record of 19,811 m (64,997 ft) had been set by Per Lindstrand on June 6, 1988 in Plano, Texas. As with all unpressurized aircraft, oxygen is needed for all crew and passengers on any flight that exceeds an altitude of about 15,000 ft (4,600 m).
- On January 15, 1991, the Virgin Pacific Flyer balloon completed the longest flight in a hot air balloon when Per Lindstrand (born in Sweden, but resident in the UK) and Richard Branson of the UK flew 7,671.91 km (4,767.10 mi) from Japan to Northern Canada. With a volume of 74 thousand cubic meters (2.6 million cubic feet), the balloon envelope was the largest ever built for a hot air craft. Designed to fly in the trans-oceanic jet streams, the Pacific Flyer recorded the highest ground speed for a manned balloon at 245 mph (394 km/h).
- The longest duration record was set by Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, Auguste Piccard’s grandson, and Briton Brian Jones, Flying in the Breitling Orbiter 3. It was the first nonstop trip around the world by balloon. The balloon left Château-d’Oex, Switzerland, on March 1, 1999, and landed at 1:02 a.m. on March 21 in the Egyptian desert 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of Cairo. The two men broke distance, endurance, and time records, traveling 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes.
- Steve Fosset broke the record for shortest time around the world on 3 July 2002. The new record is 320 h 33 min.
- A range of envelope sizes is available. The smallest, one-person, basket-less balloons (called “Hoppers” or “Cloudhoppers”) have as little as 21,000 ft³ (595 m³) of envelope volume (for a perfect sphere this would mean a radius of around 5.22 m (17.1 ft). At the other end of the scale are the balloons used by large commercial sightseeing operations that carry well over two dozen people and have envelope volumes of up to 600,000 cu ft (17,000 m3). However, most balloons are roughly 100,000 cu ft (2,800 m3) and carry 3 to 5 people.
- The top of the balloon usually has a vent of some sort. This enables the pilot to release hot air to slow an ascent, start a descent, or increase the rate of descent, usually for landing. Some hot air balloons have turning vents, which are side vents that, when opened, cause the balloon to rotate. Such vents are particularly useful for balloons with rectangular baskets, to facilitate aligning the wider side of the basket for landing.
- Baskets are commonly made of woven wicker or rattan. These materials have proven to be sufficiently light, strong, and durable for balloon flight. Such baskets are usually rectangular or triangular in shape. They vary in size from just big enough for two people to large enough to carry thirty.
- The burner unit gasifies liquid propane, mixes it with air, ignites the mixture, and directs the flame and exhaust into the mouth of the envelope. Burners vary in power output; each will generally produce 2 to 3 MW of heat (7 to 10 million BTUs per hour), with double, triple, or quadruple burner configurations installed where more power is needed.
- The pilot actuates a burner by opening a propane valve, called a blast valve. The valve may be spring-loaded so that it closes automatically, or it may stay open until closed by the pilot. The burner has a pilot light to ignite the propane and air mixture. The burner unit may be suspended from the mouth of the envelope, or rigidly supported over the basket. The burner unit may be mounted on gimbals to enable the pilot to aim the flame and avoid overheating the envelope fabric.
- Propane fuel tanks are usually cylindrical pressure vessels made from aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium with a valve at one end to feed the burner and to refuel. They may have a fuel gauge and a pressure gauge. Common tank sizes are 10 (38), 15 (57), and 20 (76) US gallons (liters).
- A balloon may be outfitted with a variety of instruments to aid the pilot. These commonly include an altimeter, a rate of climb (vertical speed) indicator known as a variometer, envelope (air) temperature, and ambient (air) temperature. A GPS receiver can be useful to indicate ground speed (traditional aircraft air speed indicators would be useless) and direction.
- Raising the air temperature inside the envelope makes it lighter than the surrounding (ambient) air. The balloon floats because of the buoyant force exerted on it. This force is the same force that acts on objects when they are in water and is described by Archimedes’ principle. The amount of lift (or buoyancy) provided by a hot air balloon depends primarily upon the difference between the temperature of the air inside the envelope and the temperature of the air outside the envelope. For most envelopes made of nylon fabric, the maximum internal temperature is limited to approximately 120 °C (250 °F).