Hot Air Ballooning
Since the Montgolfier brothers launched the first manned hot air balloon in France in 1783, the sight of hot air balloons floating through the air has been a cause for envious attention ever since. Today, opportunities to fly in hot air balloons abound the world over, and those with a taste for adventure can take a ride that they are sure to remember for years to come. Sunrise and sunset are popular times for balloon rides, not only for the unspoiled views of colorful skies, but because the weather conditions are often preferable at these times. Some people are so enthralled with the activity that they acquire balloons to fly themselves. Like all adventurous activities, hot air ballooning is not without risk, but advancements in balloon technology and rigorous training ensure that accidents are very uncommon. Pilot error, unexpected inclement weather and collisions on landings and in contested airspace are the most common causes of the rare accidents that take place.
As early as 200 AD, the Chinese used unmanned airborne balloons as a form of military signalling. It is also believed that the Peruvian Nazca people used manned balloons some 2,000 years ago, although this has not been definitely proven. However, it was not until the 1700s that Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier gained world attention when they successfully launched a manned free flight on November 21, 1783. Prior to this, they had experimented with flights with animals onboard and tethered flights with human passengers. In the 1790s, manned hot air balloons were used as military observation posts by the French. Today, hot air balloons are commonly used to give tourists birds-eye views of diverse and beautiful destinations, such as African game reserves, the British countryside and California’s idyllic Napa Valley vineyards.
Hot Air Balloon Records
In July, 2011 in Chambley-Bussieres in France, 343 hot air balloons ascended at once at the 12th Lorraine World Air Balloon Festival to set a new world record for a mass ascent, beating the record set at the same event two years earlier.
In 1973, Julian Nott designed the world’s first hot air balloon with a pressurized cabin, piloting it to a world record altitude of 45,836 feet. Since then, Nott has broken 79 air balloon world records, including an ascent to 55,000 feet.
Tycoon Richard Branson and balloonist Per Lindstrand crossed the Pacific Ocean from japan to Canada in January 1991 in the largest balloon ever flown, to set a duration record of 46 hours and 15 minutes and a distance record of 4,768 miles.
Construction and Operation
A hot air balloon generally consists of a single layer of fabric, usually nylon or polyester, fashioned into a gas containment balloon known as an “envelope.” Attached to the envelope is a passenger carrying basket known as a “gondola.” A propane or liquefied gas cylinder, known as a “burner,” is mounted above the basket and directs flames into the envelope to heat the air inside it, making it lighter than the surrounding ambient air and causing lift.
Learning to Fly a Hot Air Balloon
As with any form of aviation, a hot air balloon pilot must be appropriately licensed. In the United Kingdom, a pilot must be in possession of a PPL (B) license, the category of the private pilot’s license for hot air balloon flying. To gain this license, candidates must complete the following activities within two years:
* Log 16 hours of flight with an authorised instructor.
* Complete at least four flights with a British Balloon and Airship Club-approved instructor.
* Complete a 30-minute tethered flight, viewed and approved by a British Balloon and Airship Club-approved instructor.
* Pass five exams – aviation Law, navigation, meteorology, ballooning systems and human performance.
* Attend a landowner relations seminar.
Owning a hot air balloon is an expensive proposition. Before expending money on equipment, anyone interested in pursuing hot air ballooning as a hobby should try to join an existing balloon team as a crew member. This will give them the opportunity to gain valuable experience and discover if ballooning is truly something they want to pursue. Aspiring pilots should also join the British Balloon and Airship Club, the activity’s governing body in the United Kingdom.
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