Safety of Hot Air Balloon Flights - FAQ - Liberty Balloon Flights
1Is ballooning SAFE?

Balloon flights are very safe. Hot air balloons have no moving parts nor mechanical parts that could fail. Their technology is simple, hot air is lighter than cold air. Balloons “trap” a big amount of hot air inside the envelope (the “balloon” part of the aircraft) and this is what keeps us afloat. Very powerful burners operated by the pilot will keep the air hot inside the balloon at the desired temperature and with further heating or allowing it to cool down (or releasing air for faster reaction times), the pilot will ascend or descend at his will.

Altitude control is very precise in a balloon and the pilot will navigate the winds at different heights (or layers) to steer the aircraft to desired landing spots. Every burner in a balloon has its own supply of fuel (propane) and if ever any burner has a problem (which is very, very unusual), the balloon can continue flight with absolute safety with the remaining burners.

True, balloons are at the mercy of the winds so they cannot do what the winds do not allow them to do. This can sometimes develop in landings at unscheduled locations and this is when you might see the media showing the occurrence as an emergency. This is not really an emergency as the pilot will still have chosen to land where he did and it will always be with his passengers’ safety in mind.

Take off and landings are generally very gentle. There are days in which either the inflation or the landing happen when conditions are of moderate winds. This makes the experience more of a sport and you will see how busy the pilot is and you will see clearly what this sport is about. No matter how windy it is on the ground, once the balloons are flying the sensation in the basket is ALWAYS gentle. We are part of the wind. We do not go “through” the air, we go with it. No turbulence, no wind is felt in the basket during the flights. The experience is PEACEFUL.

What goes up must come down!
Landings are generally very gentle as well. Sometimes, due to a small landing field or because of windier conditions, the pilot must bring the basket down with a bit of a bump to stop it and on occasions, we have what we call a “drag” landing. The balloon hits the ground and it is dragged over it as the balloon deflates. We can end up with the basket tilted sideways and it generally mentioned as the most fun part of the whole adventure. In every circumstance, slow or fast, your pilot will show you and you will all practice the safe landing positions before the balloon takes off.

2Do balloons only fly at dawn? Can I not fly in the middle of the day?

Hot air balloons fly when the weather is relatively calm and when there is no turbulence. Opposite to a glider, hot air balloons fly when the sun is low over the horizon and this is because hot air balloons avoid thermals of flying in thermic conditions. The best weather for ballooning normally happens either in the early morning or in the evening when the sun goes down (it is the sun heating areas on the ground that creates the thermals). Coupled with this, balloons prefer cool air and that is why you will generally see them flying very early, With enough light to be able to see and in the first hour after the sun rises is generally the coolest and calmest moment of the day. In Australia, commercial flights happen generally only in the early morning.

3What do I need to wear to go ballooning

The simple answer is to dress for an outdoor activity. Be PRACTICAL in every sense. Ballooning tends to be a hands-on experience and you can get a little dirty on different tasks, especially on helping to pack the balloon away after the flight. Avoid expensive clothes and whites if possible. Above everything else, be practical with what you wear on your feet. The fields are damp most early mornings, the grass might be wet after some rains and, if flying in the countryside, balloons might land in paddocks with cattle and yes, you know what happens after a cow has finished its digestion! Not only do you not want to ruin your best pair of shoes, but you also do not want to start your morning with cold or wet feet...this can ruin the whole experience for you. Bring a small bag if you like with spare shoes or socks if you need to go straight elsewhere after the flight. Our crew will be happy to look after gear in our minibuses. Sturdy shoes, boots are best but runners generally are ok as well. Wear socks, avoid city flats and above all else, no high heels, please!

4What happens if the weather is no good for my balloon flight?

The pilot will decide not to fly if the conditions are not suitable. This can be because it is either too windy, too unstable or because of low clouds or rain. Balloon flights are cancelled quite often and it is best to have some flexibility if at all possible. If your flight is booked you can easily reschedule for another day of your choice

5How do you steer a balloon?

The simple answer is...you cannot, but yet we do!. Balloons go up and they go down and their altitude control is extremely precise. This allows the pilot to ascend and descend, therefore using LAYERS OF WIND at different heights and use the direction in which these “rivers of wind” are flowing. Experienced pilots are able to navigate these winds with a lot of precision and therefore take the balloon to where he or she prefers to land on that day. There is also some physics coming into play: In the southern hemisphere, the upper winds normally have a little more of a “left” component compared to the surface winds and the pilot will use this. This is because of the CORIOLIS EFFECT caused by the rotation of the earth. Maybe too long to explain here but, if you are interested, ask your pilot on the day of your flight, he or she will gladly explain this to you.

6Can children fly?

Children older than 6 can fly. Children, in ballooning, means small people aged between 6 and 12 years of age. 13 years and older are considered adults, the same as with airlines. Why don’t we fly small children? Mainly because they cannot see over the edge of the basket but there is another reason: Small kids don’t tend to contemplate the same as an adult does. They do not think along the lines of “what a beautiful sunrise!” or “look at the light over those buildings!” kind of thoughts...so they enjoy the inflation and then do not really enjoy the flight itself. An idea if you want your children to participate? Have some family or friend look after your children when you are to go ballooning and get them to come to the flight to see mummy and daddy (or either) go ballooning and then they can CHASE the balloon and try to be there for the landing. The driver simply needs to stay in touch with the balloon retrieve crew, who will be in radio contact with the pilot and will drive towards the landing areas. The kids will love the experience and find it fun.

7Can old people fly?

Yes, of course, and we love it when older passengers experience flight with us. Not long ago we flew Lorna, born and bred in the city of Geelong, on the day of her 100th birthday! Family and the media onboard this made for a great morning. The limitation is that people need to climb in and out of the basket with little help so we cannot carry passengers with certain disabilities. If in doubt, please call us on 1800 BALLOON (22 55 66) and we will explain what we can or cannot do.

8Do balloons take off and land in the same location?

Very unlikely but sometimes they do. Hot air balloons float in the wind so, from the launch site, they will float and land somewhere downwind. The few times that they do land in the same location as where they took off from is when there is enough STEERAGE in the winds at different altitudes to allow for this to happen. The retrieve crews will be following the balloons and they will have radio contact with the pilot so normally will know where to go to pick everyone up.

9How far do the balloons fly?

The distance a balloon flies depends on the speed of the winds entirely. Most commercial flights last about one hour, and the distance they travel depends on the distance the air (or the wind) travels in that time. It can be but a few kilometers or, especially if the upper winds are fast, they can go for distances like 30, sometimes 50 kilometers.

10Do you feel height sick or vertigo in a balloon?

Most generally the answer is NO, YOU DO NOT FEEL HEIGHT SICK in a balloon, even if you are afraid of heights. This is a difficult one to explain as to why. Strangely enough, from a balloon basket, no matter how high you are flying, you do not have the feeling of DEPTH that you have, for example, if you are looking over the edge of a tall building...it constantly surprised passengers how safe they feel once they are in the air, even though they thought that they would be a little scared before the flight. No, you can lean on the side of the basket quite comfortably and enjoy the views in a feeling of safety, no need to worry.

11Is it cold in a balloon during a flight?

You do not feel any colder during the flight than what you feel on the ground. Why? Because the balloons do not travel THROUGH the air, they travel IN the air (the wind)...there is no WINDCHILL FACTOR and also, you have the burners above your head keeping you warm. It can be chilly, yes, because we meet early and we are outside before the sun comes out so make sure you check how cold the morning will be and dress appropriately. Again, it is important that you do not get cold feet as the fields can be damp with early morning dew or after some rains. Use good, outdoor gear.

12 How does a balloon fly?

Hot air balloons rely on the differences in air density for lift. By heating up a large volume of air (the one inside the balloon ENVELOPE), this air becomes less dense because the molecules of air expand and air escapes from the mouth of the balloon. Simply explained, the air is DISPLACED from the balloon.

Once it displaces enough air, the whole aircraft weighs less than the air that has been displaced and this will cause it to rise or take off.

13But, does the air have weight?

Yes, it does! You don’t notice it because you are used to it, but you feel it when the air moves and you say “it is windy” (what you feel is the weight of the air is pushing you from the side, with no wind it is always pushing you down from above). In standard conditions, air weighs 1.225 kg/m3 (a little over 1 kilogram per square meter), this is about 1/1000 the weight of water. If a commercial hot air balloon, for example, weighs 1800 kg (that is the weight of the complete aircraft plus the weight of maybe 10 passengers), it needs to displace 1800 kg of air to become buoyant...that is approximately 1500 m3 of air has to come out of the balloon envelope before it can start to float. It seems a lot and it is, that is why balloons are so large. A 10 passenger-carrying hot air balloon envelope holds around 6800 m3 of air!!!

14When was the first balloon flight and some history

Are you curious about the start of hot air ballooning? Here are some interesting historical facts about ballooning through the years:

  • November 21, 1783: The first manned, untethered balloon flight took place in Paris and was built by the Montgolfier brothers. Flown by Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis D’Arlandes. They both became world-renowned pioneers of ballooning, and the first humans to ever fly.
  • A tragic beginning: The first “long-distance” balloon ride was attempted in 1785 by a French scientist who attempted to cross the English Channel. Unfortunately, the balloon exploded an hour and a half into the flight. The design was altered and later that year, a French and an American balloonist completed the voyage.
  • Used during wartime: Did you know that hot air balloons were used as essential tools during various wars from 1794 to 1945. They were utilized in different missions that involved not only transportation but surveillance and enhanced communication.
  • For the people of Melbourne in 1858, it must have been as mind-blowing as watching man land on the moon. On 1 February the English-made balloon Australasianwas partly filled with coal gas at the Melbourne Gas Works at Batman's swamp. Thirty men conveyed the balloon by horse and cart to Cremorne, where the 60-foot (18 m) high craft was topped up at Coppin's gasometer. A faulty valve meant that there was only enough gas for the balloon to carry one passenger, and it was Dean who took his place on the first recorded crewed balloon flight in Australia. Large crowds witnessed the event from vantage points on Yarra River steamboats, and the roads, paths and other elevated points around Richmond were jammed with spectators. The balloon floated for about 8 miles (13 km) and landed 'somewhere on the other side of Heidelberg'
  • On August 11, 1978, a group of three adventurers became the first people to ever cross the Atlantic in a balloon. Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman were aloft in a helium balloon named Double Eagle II for 137 hours of flight time
  • In the year 1999 Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones piloted the first successful uninterrupted circumnavigation of the world on board the balloon Breitling Orbiter 3. They set off on 1 March 1999 from Château d'Oex in Switzerland and landed in Egypt after a 45,755 kilometre flight lasting 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes.

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