Balloons are aircraft, regulated under the same Aviation Regulations as every other category. Balloons are aerostats (static within the air) - once a balloon is aloft, it moves in sync with the air mass in which it floats.
The modern hot air balloon is made up of three main parts: the envelope, the basket, and the burner. The envelope is the colourful "balloon" part and is sewn into many patterns - geometric designs and custom shapes. It is made from heat resistant, rip-stop nylon. It is coated internally with a plastic which helps contain heat. The envelope is folded, rolled, and stored in a canvas-like bag kept in a cool, dry place to avoid mildew and is continuously checked for any heat damage or tears. If well maintained, a balloon envelope should last 500 or more flying hours.
The wicker basket is woven with a tight, vertical weave of cane or bamboo and is well suited to resisting entanglement in branches or power-lines.
A finishing urethane coating inside and out ensures the wicker will resist becoming brittle or rotten from exposure to moisture.
This maintains the wicker's ability to flex, absorbing and distributing any bumps during landings. The basket contains the propane tanks and flight instruments - usually a compass, altimeter, rate of climb indicator, fuel quantity gauge and pyrometer (envelope temperature indicator).
The heart of the balloon is the burner, usually rigged on a rigid brace over the pilot's head and controlled by means of a hand valve. Hot air balloons use plain old air as the lifting gas
By heating the air inside the balloon (with blasts from the burner), the pilot makes that air less dense (lighter) than the outside air, and the balloon rises. As the internal air cools, the balloon becomes heavier, and descends.
Weather and ballooning go hand in hand - ballooning is a completely weather dependant activity. To be safe, it is important that we do not fly when the atmosphere is unstable or when the winds aloft are too fast or too slow. Ideal weather conditions are cooler overnight temperatures, winds between 10 and 20 knots at 1,000 feet about ground level, maximum winds of 10 knots at ground level and clear skies with a no/ low risk of rain. Flying in the rain in a balloon is not possible for safety reasons as well as the potential of water damage to the balloon itself, if it is foggy we have to remain on the ground, fog restricts the pilot’s ability to see obstructions like trees and power-lines on the ground during the flight and landing. Weather conditions can also affect the duration and route of all flights – although we know our launch site and the direction of the prevailing wind, it is impossible to predict where we will land.
It may be necessary to postpone a flight at any time if the conditions are not suitable, it may also be necessary to cancel a flight at any time up to the moment of launch – even if we are all in the field looking like we are ready to go – the weather can be unpredictable and each Pilot must make a final call on whether he/ she thinks it is safe to fly immediately prior to the launch (no matter the decision that is made during the earlier Pilots briefing).