Where do we fly, and how high will we go?

When do we fly?

    Our balloons are piloted by F.A.A. certified pilots and instructors, and are usually available on weekends, weather permitting of course. We schedule flights in the early mornings or early evenings when the winds are calm and predictable, making for the safest flight possible.

How long does the balloon flight last?

    Your flight will last approximately 1-1½ hours, weather permitting. We ask that you set aside approximately 3 hours of your time in order to enjoy the entire ballooning experience.

What should we wear?

    Dress comfortably for the surface temperature. We recommend long pants, and closed-toe, low heeled shoes. We will be walking in fields, so dress casually. In cooler weather, dress in layers.

Can we bring our cameras?

    Yes, by all means, and bring lots and lots of film too!!

Have you ever wondered what keeps a hot air balloon flying?

    The same principle that keeps food frozen in the open chest freezers at the grocery store allows hot air balloons to fly. It's a very basic principle: Hot air rises and cold air sinks. So while the super-cooled air in your grocer's freezer settles down around the food, the air in a hot air balloon pushes up, keeping the balloon floating. Physics says that hot air is less dense (fewer molecules per square inch) than cold air. Therefore when you trap heated air, as inside of a hot air balloon, you are actually creating a low-pressure system. That low pressure is squeezed up by the heavier, denser air around it, and viola, you're flying. A great way to demonstrate this is to blow up a small party balloon and hold it under water. When you release the balloon it rises quickly because the water around the balloon is denser than the air inside.

What are the main parts of a hot air balloon?

    A hot air balloon has three major parts: the envelope, the burner, and the basket or gondola. The basket is where passengers ride. Usually made of wicker, baskets protect the occupants and are lightweight and flexible. The burner is positioned above the passenger's heads and produces a huge flame to heat the air inside the envelope. The envelope is the colorful fabric bag that holds the hot air. When the air inside the envelope is heated, the balloon rises. To descend, the pilot allows the air to cool and the balloon becomes heavier than air. The pilot has complete control of the up-and-down movements by controlling the heat in the envelope.

How do you steer a balloon?

    Balloons simply float with the wind. The pilot can control the balloon's altitude to find a wind going in the desired direction, but you cannot fly upwind or crosswind. Preflight planning insures the pilot knows which way the balloon will be traveling, and the pilot makes sure there are plenty of suitable landing sites downwind. It is true that the pilot doesn't know where the balloon will land ahead of time, but that doesn't mean he can't control the landing! The air is stacked in layers sort of like of layer cake, and the different layers may be moving in different directions. So even though the pilot can't steer the balloon, he can move up and down to find a layer of air that will allow the balloon to change direction.

    Some days the amount of change is very small, other days the balloon may be able to actually turn around and fly in the opposite direction with altitude changes of only a few feet!

If a balloon flies with the wind, how do you get back to the launch site?

    During the flight a chase crew follows the balloon. The chase crew is in radio contact with the pilot, and the crew's job is to be at the landing site when the balloon touches down. This can be quite an adventure in itself! After the balloon lands, the crew packs the balloon back into the chase vehicle and everyone returns to the launch site.

    One of the most important parts of being on a chase crew is dealing with the public. When the balloon is landing, the chase crew asks the landowner for permission to retrieve the balloon. We are borrowing someone's land every time we take off and land, so we are very careful not to disturb or damage anyone else's property. We thank the landowners, present them with a Landowner Appreciation Certificate.

How long does it take to inflate and deflate the balloon?

    A good ground crew can inflate and launch a balloon in fifteen minutes or less. It takes about the same amount of time to deflate and pack up the balloon after the flight.

How much do balloons cost?

    The most popular sport size balloons cost from $20,000 to $30,000 or more when brand new. Support equipment (radios, fan, extra tanks, tools, repair kit, etc.) will add from $2,000 to $ 5,000 more. Used balloons are also available.

How many hot air balloons are there?

    There are over 3,500 balloons and 4,000 licensed pilots in the United States. There are another 1000 or so balloons in other countries.

What are envelopes made of?

    Rip-stop nylon is the most common material, but polyester and other fabrics are also used. The fabric around the lower opening (called the mouth) of the balloon are usually made from a fire resistant material like Nomex, similar to the suits that firefighters wear.

What fuels do hot air balloons use, and where is it carried?

    Propane is the most common fuel, but in some countries where propane is either very expensive or not readily available, butane is used. The fuel is carried inside the gondola in aluminum or stainless steel tanks that range in size from 10 to 20 gallons. Average fuel consumption is about 15-20 gallons per hour depending upon the load carried in the gondola, the outside air temperature and the condition of the envelope.

How long will balloons last?

    Depending on the care given, a balloon envelope may last 500 or more flying hours. Considering that most balloon pilots only fly 35-75 hours per year, most balloons will last a long time. The gondola will last much longer, perhaps thousands of flight hours with proper care.

What happens if a bird flies into a balloon?

    Balloons are so large that most birds avoid them. The envelope fabric is much tougher than it might appear and a bird would likely bounce off if there were a collision! Balloon manufacturers have performed tests, and it is possible to fly a balloon with a hole large enough for a man to go through as long as the hole is not at the top of the envelope.

Are all hot air balloons alike?

    All hot air balloons consist of a burner system, a basket and an envelope. The differences are in the shape and size of the envelope, the deflation system, the basket shape and design and the configuration, design, and number of burners.

How do you light the burners?

    Usually with a striker similar to that used by welders to light their welding torches, however some burners have built-in electric igniters. Once lit, the pilot lights burn during the entire flight. When the pilot squeezes the throttle valve on the burner, the fuel from the tanks rushes past the pilot light flames and is ignited to create the heat needed to keep the balloon aloft.

What are the ropes for?

    The crown line on top of the balloon is used to stabilize the balloon during inflation. "Tether lines" are used to tie the balloon down for display purposes. Sometimes before landing, the pilot uses a "drop line" from the basket so the ground crew can help move the balloon to a desired location prior to deflating.

Do you need a license to fly a balloon?

    Yes. A Balloon Pilot Certificate is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. The process is similar to the one required to obtain a license to fly an airplane or helicopter. You must pass the FAA written exam, receive a prescribed number of hours of instruction, make a solo flight, a flight to a specific altitude and pass a flight test with an FAA examiner.

How old do you have to be to fly a balloon?

    To obtain a Private Pilot Certificate in the USA you must be 16 years old. And would you believe that there are balloonists flying in their 80's!

Can balloons fly at night?

    Yes, although balloonists seldom do so because of decreased visibility and the FAA requirement to use marker lights like airplanes. The biggest problem presented by night flying is not being able to see obstacles on the ground during the landing. Most pilots who fly at night will launch an hour or so prior to sunrise so they have the pre-dawn light to help in landing. As a precautionary measure, very powerful flood/spot lights are also used in case of a landing in the dark.

What is a balloon basket made of?

    Woven wicker is used because it is lightweight, flexible and easily repaired. It also looks nice!

What are the differences between gas balloons and hot air balloons?

    A gas balloon envelope is completely enclosed at the bottom and is normally filled with a lighter-than-air gas such as helium. Hydrogen is used in some foreign countries where helium is not available and nitrogen is also used, but only on a very limited basis. A hot air balloon gets its lift from heating the air within the envelope.

Can balloons fly over mountains?

    Yes. However, there are some special concerns. If you come down in an area where there are no roads, it is difficult to retrieve the balloon and passengers. Also, mountain winds are sometimes very turbulent and unpredictable.

How many people can ride in a hot air balloon?

    Most balloons will carry from 2 to 4 passengers, but there are large commercial passenger carrying balloons with the capacity to carry up to 22 passengers.

How big are hot air balloons?

    The size of a balloon is usually determined by three factors: height, diameter and volume. The average sized sport balloon in the United States is approximately 70 feet tall, 55 feet in diameter, and will hold from 77,000 - 180,000 cu. ft. of air. Larger commercial passenger carrying balloon can be as larger as 90 feet tall, 70 feet in diameter and hold up to 600,00 cu. ft. Some of the balloons used to fly around the world are much larger than that, with a height of 160 feet, and volumes up to 2.6 million cu. ft.

For addtional information about ballooning visit here or refer to our Hot Links page.


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Smoky Mountain Balloon Adventures
Dandridge, TN
Phone: (865)622-1394
E-mail us for more information


Developed in 1998 for Smoky Mountain Balloon Adventures by my very good friend and technology guru, Rodney Williams.