The Unique Science Behind Hot Air Ballooning

Although it’s not quite rocket science, the science behind hot air ballooning is still fascinating. Despite the fact that Las Vegas hot air ballooning feels like a purely magical experience, there is a scientific explanation for all that goes on behind the scenes, from liftoff to landing, of your hot air balloon experience. Whether you’re just curious about how a balloon takes off and floats, or you want to impress people at a cocktail party, this is the science to know behind your hot air ballooning Vegas experience.

What Makes A Balloon Rise?

Balloons rise due to buoyancy, which is the same physical principle that explains why boats float. Although buoyancy related to boats involves water, and it involves air for hot air balloons, the idea is the same. The water beneath boats, like the air in hot air balloons, must be lighter, or less dense, than the surrounding medium. A component of balloons, called burners, heats the air inside the balloons to make them lighter than the surrounding air. In turn, this enables them to take off and float through the air.

What Are The Burners?

The burners are a part of every hot air balloon. They are fueled by propane cylinders, which are similar to the ones found in camping stoves. Although small balloons have just one burner, most have two or more. The additional burners provide more lift, and they also serve an important safety role by acting as a backup source of power in case another burner fails. Along with having an extra burner, most balloons have at least one extra fuel cylinder on board in case fuel supplies run low. The extra fuel is typically transported outside of the basket. Since the burners are hot, you’ll want to wear protective headgear, such as a hat, when you go on a hot air balloon ride. You can learn more about the burners and the role they play in keeping balloons afloat here: http://howthingsfly.si.edu/ask-an-explainer/how-does-hot-air-balloon-fly.

How Do Pilots Fly Balloons?

Science explains much of the reasoning behind how balloons take to the air, but humans also play a major role in helping balloons fly. The person who is responsible for flying a balloon is called a pilot. Balloon pilots, like airline pilots, must undergo professional training to get their license to fly. Balloon pilots, however, have much less influence over the balloon’s direction than plane pilots, as balloons can’t be steered as precisely. Instead, pilots control factors like the height and duration of the flight by moving the balloon either upwards or downwards. Experienced pilots can also make the balloon move (slightly) sideways by adjusting its flight path to catch the air currents of breezes and light gusts. While the flight path of a balloon can be partially controlled by a pilot, its course is also left in part to chance, as even minor changes in wind speed and direction can alter the balloon’s flight path. This aspect, many people find, is one of the highlights of ballooning, as you never quite know where you’ll end up going!

So next time you’re in a Vegas hot air balloon you’ll know everything that goes on behind the scenes of your one-of-a-kind journey!

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