How Do Hot Air Balloons Work?

How Do Hot Air Balloons Work?

The bunch of colorful hot air balloons at Matthews, NC

Over a hundred years before the Wright Brothers achieved the first airplane flight, hot air balloons were carrying passengers through the sky. These simple aircraft are widely known for recreational enjoyment, but they also played an integral role during other historic moments such as the Civil War. Here’s your complete guide to these lighter-than-air balloons.

History of the Hot Air Balloon

In September of 1783, French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier launched the first unmanned Montgolfier balloon with only a sheep, duck, and rooster on board. Experimentation led the brothers to discover that heated air directed into a paper or fabric would cause the bag to rise. The original Montgolfier balloon was made of silk lined with paper and was suspended at over 6,000 feet for about 10 minutes.

Throughout history, these gas-powered balloons soon became a preferred method of air travel for military efforts around the world. Founded in France in 1794, the French Aerostatic Corps was the world’s first air force to use balloons for surveillance and natural exploration. Union forces utilized hot air balloons to collect crucial information about enemy movements during the American Civil War.

Anatomy of Hot Air Balloons

The modern hot air balloon is made up of three components—the envelope, basket, and burner system. Affectionately referred to as “the bag” by pilots, the envelope is the balloon-like part of the aircraft that suspends from the basket. The envelope’s fabric is a fire- and rip-resistant nylon treated with a polyurethane coating that reduces porosity and protects the fabric from harmful sunrays.

The classic wicker basket protects passengers and supports the burner system that makes the balloon fly. Hot air balloons work on the principle that hot air rises and cold air sinks. As the motive force, burners produce heated air that helps the pilot take off and steer the balloon. The heated air burning inside the balloon weighs less than cold air on the outside, giving hot air balloons the ability to float upwards. While heating up the air inside will raise the balloon, pilots can open the parachute valve to let hot air out and bring the balloon back to the ground.

Containing this hot air would be difficult without the impermeable polyurethane coating. The inspire® polyurethane films and foams manufactured by Transcontinental Advanced Coatings provide adhesive solutions and high-performance engineering solutions to a broad range of industries around the world. We are focused on providing professional support and a wide variety of advanced coating services and specialty film products. Fill out our online form to get in touch with your local representative.