How to inflate a hot air balloon

by | Mar 18, 2021 | Hot Air Ballooning

Inflating a hot air balloon is an art. Unfortunately, balloon inflations can also be one of the easiest things to mess up. So, it’s important that pilots take their time and do each step with diligence. Hot air ballooning done properly and in good weather conditions and light winds can be a ton of fun.

Selection of hot air balloon launch location and layout

The most ideal launch location should be a quarter of an acre or more in size, with no obstructions. The surface should ideally be made out of grass. In reality, balloons launch from parking lots, fields, parks, and every once in a while an airport! The hot air balloon layout location and direction is one of the most important steps in preparing for a successful launch. Pilots must determine wind direction, as well as any side gusts or obstructions that might impede their flight. It’s also important that the pilot has done a proper weather check to ensure that the wind conditions are good, they are moving in the right direction, and that no thunderstorms or adverse conditions are in the area.

Process of inflating a hot air balloon

There are many types of balloons, however, one this they all have in common is they are massive. It’s amazing to see the sheer size of a hot-air balloon. Most hot air balloons are 9 to 11 stories tall. The average setup time is anywhere from 20-40 minutes, but it really depends on the size of the balloon and crew.

1. Basket and burner assembly

The basket is unloaded from the trailer and the burners are installed at the top of the 4 uprights. Carabiners then connect the basket cables to the burner frame. The gas burner hoses get connected to steel or titanium liquid draw propane tanks in the pilot compartment. Once all fittings are connected a safety check is performed to make sure there are no leaks and that the burners (some balloons use a single burner some large balloons use up to 4) are working properly. At that time the basket is laid on its side.

2. Unfurling of the balloon envelope

Hot air balloon envelopes super heavy and weigh between 200lb and 500lbs. Many balloon pilots choose to build rolling carts, making it much easier to unload them out of the bag. Once the balloon is stretched out, the Carabiners on the balloon are connected to the carabiners on the basket.

3. Inflation of the balloon

Hot air balloons range in size from 60k cubic feet to 500k cubic feet and are over 100 feet tall. This means Inflating a balloon with cold air takes a lot of breath. Just kidding. Hot air balloon pilots use gas-powered fans to cold inflate the balloon.
Two people hold open the “mouth” of the balloon and another crew member heads to the top of the envelope to install the parachute. The parachute is actually the top of the balloon that is held in place by both pressure and lines during flight. The parachute is used to release hot air out of the balloon during landing procedures. During the inflation process, velcro tabs connect the parachute to the balloon fabric. Once the hot air balloon is upright, the red line will be activated. The velcros will release and the parachute will set in place.

4. Turning on the burner

The propane is compressed in the cylinders and flows to the burner as a liquid. When the blast valve is fired the propane vapor gets ignited by the pilot light. On each burn, propane flows through the tubing and gets heated into a vapor. It takes multiple 3-5 second burns to get enough heat in the envelope for it to stand up.

5. Launching the hot air balloon

Hot air balloon burners create a massive amount of heat! Each individual burner can unload 20 million BTUs in a single pull of the blast valve. Trying to figure out how hot that is? Your BBQ is about 70,000 BTUs. Once the balloon is upright and stabilized, passengers are welcomed aboard. Getting into a balloon basket is kind of like getting on a horse. Passengers put one foot in a foothold and swing their other leg into the basket. Once everyone is in the basket and situated, the pilot will explain where to hold on and what to do upon landing. At that point, the pilot activates the burner and the balloon ride is on! 

About the Author

Chief pilot of Seattle Ballooning. I get the opportunity to provide luxury hot air balloon rides just South of Seattle in front of Mt. Rainier. When you do what you love, it's not considered work.

Seattle Washington

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