fueled by hot air

A closer look at how hot-air balloons take flight.

A closer look at how hot-air balloons take flight.

This October, more than 750 hot-air balloons will take flight over Albuquerque as part of the largest balloon event on earth. For more than 40 years, the International Balloon Fiesta has been a colorful celebration of flying that draws people from all over the world. Obviously, these things don’t fly themselves — there’s a lot of science and technology that goes into these amazing aircraft. Let’s take a look at what goes into a hot-air balloon (besides, of course, hot air):

  • Invented in 1783, the hot-air balloon is the oldest method of human flight.
  • Modern hot-air balloons are made of petroleum-based ripstop nylon or dacron and are coated with a polyurethane sealer.
  • The typical balloon will carry 40 gallons of propane fuel in two 20 gallon tanks. A 1-hour flight will use approximately 20–30 gallons of fuel.
  • After a fan inflates the balloon half full with cool air, the burner shoots a controlled flame 10–12 feet into the balloon. The heated air rises and causes the balloon to become buoyant.
  • In 2002, Steve Fossett became the first person to fly a balloon solo nonstop around the world. It took him 13 days, 8 hours and 33 minutes, and his top speed was 186 mph as he flew over the Indian Ocean.