Hot Air Ballooning Basics

Hot air ballooning basics.  All the balloon related questions answered.


How high do you go?

Balloons are extremely capable aircraft and can fly much higher than we can tolerate without special equipment.  The world record for a hot air balloon is 21,027 metres (68,337 feet) set by Vijaypat Singhania in India.  In 1961 Malcolm Ross climbed to 34,668 metres (112,000 feet) above the Gulf of Mexico in a gas filled balloon.
Here in the Hunter Valley we keep things a little more down to earth, typically we fly at 1000 – 2000 feet although some of the best moments can be watching the wildlife while cruising just above the trees.


How far do you fly?

A balloon is moved along with the prevailing winds.  We aim to be in the air for around an hour, so if the wind speed is 8km/h then we would expect to fly 8km.  A typical flight would be around 12km.


How do you steer a balloon?

Wind speed and wind direction is often different at different heights, so your pilot uses these different air currents to manoeuvre the balloon quite accurately along the valley. Experience in flying in the valley has shown our pilot where the wind sometimes drops out or turns a certain way, which adds to the safety and enjoyment of the flight for our passengers.


Why do you fly in the early mornings?

Not by choice! But once you are out of bed it’s well worth it.  Hot air balloons need calm, still air to fly.  The mornings provide the best possible chance of getting these conditions.  In the afternoons we often experience thermals in the valley which makes the air unstable and the balloon hard to control.


How big is the balloon?

Modern balloons can be massive. The largest passenger balloon in production is over 600,000 cubic feet and can carry 32 passengers. Even in the valley some balloons are 350,000 cubic feet carrying up to 18 passengers at a time.  Our largest balloon is 240,000 cubic feet carrying a maximum of 10 guests.  Balloons of this size offer a more intimate service and are much easier to control. This balloon weighs about 900kg without passengers.


What are they made of?

The balloon itself is made of a rip stop nylon.  The nylon is heat treated and sewn onto load tapes. The load tapes are similar to the material used in climbing harnesses and this is where the weight of the passengers is distributed.  The basket is still made from wicker. Unlike in the olden days this wicker is woven around a stainless steel framework for added strength and rigidity.  The bottom of the basket is made from marine grade plywood with Australian hardwood runners underneath.


How much do they cost?

A complete system including burners, tanks, basket and the balloon fabric (envelope) will cost up to $100,000. The envelope part is normally 45% – 50% of this cost and will last only for about 600 flights.


Where do you buy balloons from?

In the Southern hemisphere there is only one place which is Kavanagh Balloons just outside Sydney.  There are a few other companies mainly in Europe and America.


Are they inspected?

Yes! As with all aircraft a strict schedule of maintenance and inspections is in force. Our balloons are inspected every 100 hours of flight or every 12 months depending on what comes up first.  We are very lucky to be so close to the manufacturer of the aircraft, meaning we are able to send all our equipment to Sydney to have the inspection done by the best in the business.