How Does a Hot-Air Balloon Work?

How Does a Hot-Air Balloon Work?
How Does a Hot-Air Balloon Work? (Image: Public Domain)

The Hot Air Balloon

Hot air balloons are simple flying machines. A hot air balloon is made up of three components: a balloon envelope, burner and wicker basket. This article will give you a basic understanding of how a hot air balloon works.

The Balloon Envelope

The balloon envelope is probably the first thing that you notice on a hot air balloon. The component is called a balloon envelope because it is shaped like a balloon. It is made out of a durable flame-resistant nylon material. The material needs to be flame-resistant because the burner shoots a flame into the balloon envelope and fills it with hot air, which makes the hot air balloon rise.

The Burner

The burner is made up of a propane tank and a pilot light. The hot air balloon's pilot controls the flame by turning the valve on the propane tank. The opened valve releases propane to the pilot light, which makes a flame. The size of the flame depends on how far the propane valve is opened. The faster the propane flow, the larger the flame. The larger the flame, the more hot air that enters the balloon envelope and the higher the hot air balloon rises.

The Wicker Basket

The wicker basket connects to and hangs underneath the balloon envelope. The wicker basket holds the propane tank for the burner and the people riding in the hot air balloon.


Navigating a hot air balloon is not the same experience every time. Direction cannot be controlled as precisely in a hot air balloon as it can in an airplane. Navigation relies partially on the wind.


Altitude is controlled by the propane burner and the parachute valve. The parachute valve is an opening at the top of the balloon envelope. When closed, it traps hot air from the burner inside the balloon, making the hot air balloon rise. When opened, it allows hot air to escape, and the hot air balloon descends.


To move sideways, the pilot increases or decreases the altitude of the hot air balloon to find a different wind direction. At different altitudes, the wind blows in different directions. A hot air balloon travels in whichever direction the wind is blowing.

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