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How Do I Make a Hot Air Balloon?

By T. Carrier
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Hot air balloons are devices of various sizes generally used for flight travel or entertainment purposes. They may be crafted in many shapes, but most possess similar features. In order to make a hot air balloon, an individual must usually have a fabric bag, a basket, and an open flame source. The latter object pumps hot air into the bag and makes it float. Licensing may be required for construction of commercial hot air balloons, while model hot air balloons can be crafted from common household items like candles and paper bags.

These objects were first crafted in the late 18th century in France. While early versions required wind propulsion and more modern versions can be moved with other sources of power, the basic makeup of the balloon has remained. Each variety must have a container for the hot air called the envelope. A smaller basket, or gondola, is used for carrying weight such as human passengers. Of course, the primary component to make a hot air balloon is the heat source: an open flame.

An individual who wishes to make a hot air balloon on a large scale will need these basic components. Envelopes are typically fashioned from fabric gas bags made of synthetic substances like nylon or polyester. This material must be cut into individual panels before the panels are joined together through sewing. Further, protective coatings may be applied to the fabric’s surface. The passenger-carrying component is attached to the balloon with a high-strength substance known as structural load tape.

In order to make a hot air balloon float, an opening — called a throat or a mouth — must be left at the bottom of the balloon shape for the hot air’s entrance. In addition, a burner must be affixed to the opening above the basket. This burner creates a flame that is usually sustained via a liquid gas called propane. While this flame is the main air source, commercial hot air balloons often must be at least partially inflated by some cold air beforehand. Piloting and navigating can be achieved with the addition of vents that release certain amounts of hot air from the envelope.

The invention of hot air balloons was successful due to basic scientific reasoning. Research and experimentation reveals that cold air is heavier than warmer air. When a flame lights the area underneath the balloon, or envelope, it gathers and becomes very hot because the air is trapped. The air surrounding the balloon is colder and, therefore, has more weight and density. This discrepancy allows the air contained within the balloon to rise and float along the cooler air source.

As a learning experiment, individuals may also make a hot air balloon on a small scale. This process would involve simulating the different components of an actual hot air balloon to make a model. For example, the hot air heating property and gondola could be recreated via a candle and some aluminum foil. If an individual gets two separate rolls of aluminum foil and then tapes the candle in the center of these adjoined structures, this will work as a stand-in for the structures. A paper bag can then be placed over the device to serve as the balloon, so that when the candle is lit, the bag will rise.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Jul 25, 2014

@Ana1234 - Oh, you can make model hot air balloons that work with heat, but they don't look like scale models of the real thing.

I mean, there are those flying lanterns that some cultures let off at New Years and those are just a bag with a candle lifting it. So it's obviously possible. But if you look at those carefully all the weight is in the very light bag.

If you live in an area where hot air balloons are made in general you could probably ask to go and see the process, if that's what interests you.

By Ana1234 — On Jul 24, 2014

@Mor - I'm not sure if it's possible using heat. It would be very difficult at any rate. You've got to remember that size does actually matter in this case. A balloon of a small size is going to have proportionately smaller lifting power than one of a larger size. So you'd have to make sure it was so light that it could hold its own weight, or big enough to fit in the amount of hot air it would need.

I think most of the time when you see model hot air balloons flying, they are filled with helium or some other gas, as it has more lifting power.

By Mor — On Jul 23, 2014

When I was younger I tried making a hot air balloon from tissue paper and wire, but it didn't work very well. Now that I think about it, the tissue paper was probably too permeable and the little candle I was using wasn't providing enough heat.

And I didn't look up any hot air balloon making information before I started. I just figured all I needed was a light construction of a bag that could hold hot air and something to create the hot air.

I'd still love to do it though. There's something so peaceful and beautiful about hot air balloons and building one on a small scale just seems like it would be fun.

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