Some time or other, you have likely noticed giant, beautifully decorated hot air balloons drifting slowly across the sky. Perhaps you have wondered what it must be like to float quietly above the terrain and descend softly to the destination.
How exactly does this work?
Hot Air Balloon Pilots
It is essential to know that commercial hot air balloon pilots undergo rigorous training and certification on a scale similar to the regimen required for airplane pilots, even though flight dynamics are decidedly different. To qualify, commercial hot air balloon pilot candidates must already have a private pilot’s license and undergo extensive hours of flight training and observation under the supervision of a licensed instructor, multiple ascents and descents, solo flights, and more. Much of the orientation involves passenger safety.
What Happens with a Hot Air Balloon Flight?
Hot air balloon excursions offer passengers a panoramic, captivating view of the slowly changing landscapes beneath and surrounding their flight path. After a slow ascension to the targeted altitude, the pilot guides the balloon slowly toward the destination, driven by the prevailing air currents and the pilot’s skillful maneuvering.
As the hot air balloon approaches the destination, the professional pilot makes adjustments that cause the balloon to descend slowly, eventually for a soft, safe landing.
What Causes the Balloon to Fly?
The pioneers of balloon flying were the Montgolfier Brothers, who began experimenting with “lighter than air” aviation during the late 1700s. Their early experiments determined that heated air trapped within a light fabric would cause the material to rise above the heat source. Eventually, in Paris in 1783, the brothers demonstrated the viability of hot air ballooning for transporting humans over a distance of a few miles.
The art and science of hot air ballooning have not changed much during the past two centuries, but today’s hot air balloons are far more sophisticated and safer than those earlier experiments.
The basic principle remains: heated air expands, making it lighter than the surrounding atmosphere, causing the balloon to rise.
The components of a modern hot air balloon are:
Envelope (Balloon) is made from a light fabric, usually nylon. The envelope will have a hole at the bottom that will act as the burner flame port.
- Basket (Gondola) is the passenger compartment suspended from the bottom of the envelope by a network of cords.
- Burner (Heat Source) is an adjustable heat source managed by the pilot to cause the balloon to rise or descend based on the temperature within the envelope.
Stages of Flight
The envelope or balloon is first inflated at the takeoff area with cool air from fans or blowers.
Once filled, the pilot lights the burner to begin heating the air within the envelope. The atmosphere within the envelope expands to the point that the combined weight of the balloon, basket, and passengers becomes less than the surrounding atmosphere, and the balloon rises.
While aloft, the pilot can moderate the burner to cause the balloon to rise or fall as needed, often to take advantage of prevailing wind currents to help guide the balloon in the direction of the landing destination.
As the balloon approaches the landing area, the pilot begins to reduce the burner output, cool the air within the balloon, and slowly and safely descend.
Reserve Your Safe Hot Air Balloon Rides with Balloons Above the Valley
Napa Valley is one of the world’s most iconic hot air balloon destinations. The area boasts hundreds of vineyards surrounding pristine villages and wineries along a 30-mile stretch. The panorama is bordered by impressive mountain ranges to the east and west and offers breathtaking, memorable views for Napa Valley hot air balloon passengers.
To learn more about the safe and enjoyable hot air balloon rides, visit the Balloons Above the Valley website, where you can make reservations for future flights.
You may also reserve your places by phoning Balloons Above the valley at 1-800-464-6824.
Gift certificates for any future flight are also available.