The takeoff is usually very quiet. Many passengers don’t even realize that the flight has already begun. Sometimes the wind blows a bit more and the basket swings more but it’s an exciting and fun time with no abrupt and unpleasant feelings.
In Spain, thanks to its mostly favorable climate, the hot air balloon flights are possible all year round, even in the coldest winter months. The low temperature is not an obstacle for the flight. But we do prefer to choose the calmest days for ballooning when the wind doesn’t exceed a certain speed. We always try to find the conditions of maximum security. Only the wind, rain or fog can limit the aeronauts to fly up to the sky in our balloons.
The flights are usually performed early in the morning. And it’s not our whim. The thing is that the flight depends on the heat. After sunrise the sun begins to warm the atmosphere and soil that creates movements of the air. The early morning and late afternoon are the quietest moments when the wind is usually mild and steady. Also, when the sun heats the ground, and everything on it, the air rises and thermal updrafts are produced. These invisible currents of warm air allow vultures to fly with almost no effort and paragliders to maintain in the air. But we have to avoid these currents flying in a hot air balloon.
Each season gives the landscape a different, unique look that makes ballooning very special. A flight zone can change a lot from one season to another offering completely different landscapes and different sensations. Therefore, it is not necessary to wait for spring to balloon. The winter landscapes guarantee unforgettable flights.
The balloon rises gently without any abrupt or unpleasant feelings and begins its quiet and relaxing ride. During the flight, the balloon and its crew travel with the wind so the movement is barely noticeable and it seems that this is the landscape that moves beneath. You won’t suffer from vertigo because there are no height references. You will just enjoy every moment of unparalleled views and sensations.
Revisions passing each piece of equipment and balloon pilot himself and the fact that we fly only in the best weather conditions make this sport activity extremely safe. The flight system is very simple and the burners’ systems which consist of hoses and bottles are at least double in passenger hot air balloons. Before takeoff the pilot performs a check that allows him to detect any abnormalities. Many passengers ask us if birds can jeopardize the envelope. Outside the comics and novels birds are not aggressive with balloons, they are afraid of them. If flying is the safest form of travel, ballooning is probably the safest way to fly.
During the ride it’s recommended that passengers could look out the edge of the basket, so it’s more a question of height than age. Most of the young aeronauts reach this height at the age of 7 years old and they can already go ballooning. From this moment there are no age limitations for those who want to take a ride up in the clouds in a hot air balloon. To obtain a license pilots must be a minimum of 16 years old and they may continue flying passing the periodic medical examination.
Only 22% of solar radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere while the Earth absorbs 45%, reflecting the remaining to the space. This means that the temperature of the troposphere air (layer from the ground to approximately 10 km above) is mainly heated from below or, to tell the long story short, the air temperature is higher the lower we are. The degree of decrease in air temperature with height is known as vertical temperature gradient or VGT. Although the temperature drops 2 ° C per 1,000 feet (about 305 meters or about 6 ° C per kilometer) no passenger of the hot air balloon reaches the considerable height to feel the temperature difference. So, you won’t need to put on warmer clothes, the temperature in the air will be almost the same as on the ground.
Each flight, even if it takes off from the same place, is completely different from the others. Therefore there is no a standard height for balloon rides. Every day the wind dictates the actions of the pilot who seeks the best air currents in each particular case. Generally the maximum height will be from 300 to 800 meters above the earth.
The usual duration of the balloon flights is about an hour. However, each flight is unique. Each time it’s up to the pilot who decides whether to land earlier or extend the flight to perform the landing in optimal place and conditions both from the standpoint of security and collection of material.
The maximum weight and the number of passengers a hot air balloon can carry depend on the size of the envelope. Unsurprisingly large envelopes need baskets with more capacity. And as a balloon grows, the bigger number of burners it should have. In Spain the biggest balloons currently available are for 16-18 passengers with 9,000 m3 envelopes.
The burners of a balloon are usually fueled by propane (C3H8). In cold weather or winter months we mix propane with nitrogen. This gas is not flammable, fueled or emulsified with propane but it permits to increase the pressure of the bottles.
The first experiments were those of Montgolfier brothers in 1783, when the air was heated by a fire. This was a cumbersome and impractical system, so soon hot air balloons were displaced by the gas balloons. The resurgence of hot air balloons took place in October 1960 when Raven Industries gave a big push to the ballooning. They manufactured the propane burner and used nylon for an envelope, which meant the revival of hot air balloons.
The envelope, a fabric bag, is the most visible part of a hot air balloon. It varies in size depending on capacity of the passengers who can be transported in a balloon. Under the envelope there is the basket, made of wood and wicker with a metal frame inside. The steel cables allow joining the basket with the burner and the envelope. The basket in passenger balloons is often divided into compartments. Above the basket there is the burner that heats the air in the envelope and allows the balloon to fly. In the pilot compartment there are bottles with propane necessary for the burner.
To operate a balloon the pilot is required to take a course in a licensed school and pass one practical and one theoretical exam. Then he receives a certificate of a hot air balloon pilot. It is accompanied by a valid second class medical certificate. The pilot must be at least 16 years old to start the course. The workshop consists of a minimum of 16 flight hours (a minimum of 8 flights). Once achieved enough skills, the future pilot has to operate the balloon at least during one hour alone. The theoretical part includes: air law, general knowledge of aircraft performance and flight planning, actions and human limitations, meteorology, navigation, operational procedures and flight principles. All pilots must renew their license annually demonstrating flight duty in the last year and valid medical certificate.
Of course! Although it’s not obligatory for passengers but your work will be appreciated, the more passengers are carried, the larger and heavier the balloon will be. Therefore it takes more effort to pick it up. It’ s also a perfect time to touch the balloon and see how it is made, to ask all your questions that have appeared during the flight and spend a pleasant moment with the flight crew and other passengers before making a toast.
The first aeronauts in the history were Jean-Francois Pilatre d Roziers and the Marquis d’Arlandes. After their flight over Paris in 1783 they celebrated the happy event toasting with champagne. Since then, anywhere in the world where you take a ride in a balloon that tradition is kept offering a toast to all passengers. In Spain this tradition is sometimes adapted by replacing the French champagne with a Spanish cava accompanied by snacks.