What we see when we see hot air balloons is the free spirit and grace of floating wherever the wind decides to take us. But there is much more to a hot air balloon launch and flight than just riding the wind.
Hot air balloons are considered aircraft and are regulated by the (FAA) similar to airplanes and helicopters. Hot air balloon pilots must pass a yearly in-flight certification to maintain his or her license as a commercial pilot. Chester County Balloon Festival only invites pilots who have met these qualifications and our strict parameters.
The balloons themselves must pass a yearly safety inspection which includes testing the fabric of the balloon, fuel system, integrity of the basket, burners and all other related equipment before the balloon receives its annual air worthiness certificate to fly, just like fixed wing and helicopters.
Unlike fixed-wing aircraft however, a hot air balloon is dependent upon fair weather. Ideal conditions are calm winds below 8 mph and cool temperatures. Since wind and heat come with the sun, the ideal time for a balloon to fly is early in the morning before the sun gets too high in the sky and in the early evening as the sun begins to descend.
To inflate the balloon, pilots use inflation fans to fill the balloon with outside air. This process is called cold packing. When the balloon is inflated enough the pilot uses the burner to heat the inside air to approximately one hundred degrees warmer than the outside temperature. This is when the balloon takes shape and is ready to fly on a new adventure. It is the hot air inside the balloon that makes the balloon rise. If the outside air temperature is too high, the pilot would need to add more heat to the balloon to compensate.
Hot air balloon pilots are always aware of the weather and the function of their equipment. The safety of the people in the basket is a top priority. Pilots always have the final say in whether the conditions are right for them to fly. Each pilot has his or her guidelines as to whether they fly during our weekend and the Chester County Balloon Festival stands by each pilot’s decision.