The invention of the hot air balloon gave rise to an interest in balloon aircraft and how they were able to fly using buoyancy. Balloon rides soon became popular and continue to enjoy popularity to this day. Events are regularly held inviting designers to show off their skills to the point where the balloons take on intricate shapes not thought feasible for flight decades ago.
A hot air balloon is a simplistic aircraft, utilizing no engines and offering no speed settings and directional control. This many seem dangerous but in the hands of an experienced pilot and crew, it’s no more risky than airplanes.
Weather conditions are always taken into consideration before planning a balloon ride because the aircrafts move with the wind. Strong gales and rain pose a danger so even if a trip has been booked and paid for, organizers will call it off if the weather plays foul.
A balloon is made up of an envelope (the fabric that gives it shape and form), a basket to carry passengers, and a burner to heat air and give it buoyancy. As the balloon rises, it rides with air mass moving at the same speed and in the same direction. The pilot has altitudinal control, however, and changes the course by releasing more heat or reducing it through the burner.
Since balloon rides are very popular, better safety measures are put in place to minimize accidents and injuries. Balloons typically have two separate fuel sources, hoses and burners. One acts as a backup. Fire extinguishers are regular fixtures as is a drop line. The line is released if the balloon’s unable to land so crew waiting on the ground can guide it to safety. Other safety components are a first aid kit and fire blankets.
The pilot and the crew are directed to wear certain protective gear. Flame resistant gloves are usually mandatory though clothing doesn’t have to be fire resistant. However, nylon and other synthetic fabrics are prohibited and instead, cotton or wool is worn. Passengers are also advised to wear protective clothing in the form of cotton and wool. While the wearing of high-end safety garb is not mandatory, minimizing risk of injury is with simple clothing and following safety practices.
Perhaps the best safety measure that can be taken with hot air balloons is by making sure pilots and crew are well-trained. The safety of passengers and the balloon itself is in their hands and organizers need to pull out all the stops to hire only the very best. High quality balloons are manufactured by only two or three companies who’ve achieved a very firm footing in the market. They follow strict manufacturing guidelines so the issue of faulty balloons rarely occurs.
Before signing up for a ride, passengers should make sure that the company comes with referrals and has been operating for at least a few years. Checking license and certification are, of course, necessary.
An important point to know is the difference between a ride operator and a broker. The first owns and operates their balloons while the second sells customers gift certificates for rides. Always opt for the former as brokers have no technical knowledge about balloon rides even if they guarantee complete safety. You can tell the difference by gauging how many types of rides are offered (skydiving, hang gliding etc), lower cost, and many ride locations which are services typically provided by brokers.
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