Q: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GO FOR A RIDE?
A: As an industry, any reputable balloon company will charge between $175.00 and $275.00 per person. However, some businesses offer special gift certificates that could lower the price. Being FAA certified, hot air balloons are very expensive to own and operate. With the cost of: crew, chase trucks, aircraft maintenance and commercial insurance, balloonists strive to keep the cost to the passenger as low as possible. Back in 1786 it cost the U.S equivalent of $45,000 per passenger! Ballooning is less expensive than ever. Prices will vary from one Balloon Company to another, so it is best to contact the business directly regarding prices and offers.
Q: HOW DO BALLOONS FLY?
A: Hot Air Balloons operate through the basic principles of gravity and heat transfer. As air inside the balloon is heated past the ambient temperature of its surroundings, it gains altitude. As the air inside the envelope cools or is vented, it descends. Pilots use wind layers at different altitudes to move the balloon from one direction to another.
Q: WHAT EQUIPMENT IS REQUIRED FOR BALLOONS?
A: Hot air balloons include several parts: the envelope (the fabric portion of the balloon), the basket or gondola, burners and fuel systems.
The basket is made of wicker, which is strong enough to absorb landings, yet flexible enough to protect the passengers. Burners can come in either single, double, or triple configurations, with each burner putting out the equivalent of over 5,000 horsepower. Special instruments include: Altimeter for displaying altitude, Variometer to show rate of climb or decent, and Pyrometer that shows the air temperature in the top of the envelope. Fuel systems use propane and consist of stainless steel propane tanks and fuel hoses. Other necessary equipment includes an inflation fan, two-way radios and some means of transporting the balloon, and its passengers, to and from the launch site and the landing area.
Q: HOW ARE BALLOONS INFLATED?
A: After the balloon envelope is laid out, a gas-powered fan forces unheated air through the balloons mouth, filling the fabric and giving the pilot space to light the balloon’s burners. This is called cold inflation. After the envelope is filled, the balloon is stood-up by igniting the burners and heating up the air inside. That’s called hot inflation. After the envelope is over the basket, and the pilot checks his equipment, the passengers are allowed to board.
Q: CAN YOU STEER A BALLOON?
A: Winds determine a hot air balloons direction. Balloonists can steer a balloon, to a limited extent, by adjusting the balloon’s altitude and making use of different wind speeds and directions. The burners are used to heat the air and make the balloon rise. The pilot may stop “burning” the fuel to stay level before the balloon starts to descend. Venting hot air out the top makes you go down quicker. Pilots follow the wind patterns and adjust their altitude to move the balloon in different directions according to where they, and their passengers, would like to go.
Q: WHAT FUEL DO HOT AIR BALLOONS USE?
A: Hot air balloons carry 20 to 45 gallons of propane in stainless steel fuel tanks. The average flight uses roughly 30 gallons during an hour.
Q: HOW HIGH DO BALLOONS FLY?
A: The highest hot air balloon flight on record went to an altitude of 22,000 ft. However, the typical romantic or pleasure flight would fly from treetop level to a few thousand feet, depending on the wind speed and direction.
Q: HOW BIG IS A BALLOON?
A: The most popular size is about 55 feet wide and 7 stories tall, using close to 1800 sq. yards of nylon fabric, 3 miles of thread, a 1/2 mile of reinforced nylon webbing (load tapes), and holds about 90,000 cubic feet of heated air. “Special shape” balloons and commercial balloons’ can range in size from 150,000cf to 300,000cf, to accommodate larger baskets and more passengers.The size depends upon how many passengers the company is trying to fly at one time. Some balloons hold as few as one person others as many as 32 passengers.
Q: HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU NEED TO FLY A BALLOON?
A: At least a crew of 3: 1 pilot and at 2 ground crew. Crews are very important to prepare for a launch, follow, and safely recover the balloon. Passengers often assist as crew. It’s all part of the fun.
Q: HOW COULD I LEARN TO FLY A BALLOON?
A: Balloon pilots come from all walks of life. Anyone with the desire to learn to fly a balloon can become a pilot. Start by learning about balloons while working on a crew and/or taking lessons from a pilot instructor. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) will issue a balloon pilot’s license after you have gained the required experience, passed a written test, and passed a flight test with a FAA examiner.
Q: HOW MUCH DOES A BALLOON WEIGH?
A: The average hot air balloon (with a deflated envelope, a gondola or basket, 30-40 gallons of fuel in 2 tanks) weighs about 800 pounds. Special Shape and larger commercial balloons weigh thousands of pounds. Once inflated and in the air it will weigh about 2 1/2 tons!
Q: HOW MUCH DOES A BALLOON COST?
A: Like cars and boats, new balloons vary in size and amenities. A new smaller sport model could cost around $18,000. These balloons typically carry the pilot and one passenger. Larger balloons that carry four to six persons in addition to the pilot will range in price between $20,000 and $55,000 (for envelope, gondola, tanks, and instruments). Used equipment is available. Big commercial balloons (10 to 15 passengers) and special shapes sell for market price making them quite costly.
Q: HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED IN BALLOONING?
A: You can get involved with a local pilot and a local balloon club like the Southern California Balloon Association or the Pacific Coast Aeronauts in Northern California. Many enthusiasts get their start as a member of a chase crew. If you live in Northern California or Sacramento’s Gold Country, e-mail us or call us to ask how you can become a member. You might earn free flight time and/or training as crew member!