"So, How Does It Fly?"
Q & A with Balloon Pilot Russ McLain
RE/MAX International Balloon Pilot Russ McLain answers some common questions about ballooning:
Q: How do you steer a gas or hot air balloon?
A: Neither kind of balloon can actually be steered. Pilots of both kinds of craft control the direction of flight only by ascending or descending to a current of air moving a different direction.
Q: Why must you schedule a balloon flight in the early morning hours?
A: Hot air balloons must be flown in the early morning hours because that's when the air is at its most stable and calm. Temperatures of 80 degrees or more are too hot to fly a balloon. The amount of lift also varies with temperature. The lift is dependent on the difference in air temperature between the outside and inside the balloon, so the cooler it is outside, the bigger the difference and the greater the lift.
Q: How long does it take to inflate a hot air balloon?
A: About 30 minutes.
Q: What are the weight limitations for a balloon flight?
A: At sea level, a balloon in free flight can hold up to four adults. In higher altitudes it may lift only two.
Q: How large is an average balloon when inflated?
A: The most common size is about 57 feet across at its widest point and 70 feet high ? as tall as a seven-story building.
Q: Do you need a license to fly a balloon?
A: Yes. Balloons, like airplanes, are governed in the U.S. by the Federal Aviation Administration. Getting a balloon license is much like getting a fixed-wing license. The balloon also has to have airworthiness inspections every year, or after every 100 hours of flight time.
Q: How fast does a balloon fly?
A: The same speed as the wind.
Q: What is the difference between a hot air balloon and a gas balloon?
A: There are several differences. Gas balloons are filled with helium and altitude is changed by dropping sand or water ballast, and by venting gas from the envelope. A hot air balloon ascends with blasts of heat from the burners and descends when the heated air inside the envelope cools or is vented.
Gas balloons can remain aloft for days, can ascend to higher altitudes, and can fly for hundreds of miles ― up to more than 1,000 miles. The average hot air balloon flight is one to two hours in duration and covers five to 10 miles.
But gas balloons are substantially more expensive to fly than hot air balloons. Filling a gas balloon with helium costs about $2,500 compared to about $25 for propane to fly a hot air balloon.
Copyright © 2002 RE/MAX International Inc. 9/3/02