Canowindra International Balloon Challenge: Q & A with a pilot

On fire: Pilot Doug Grimes gets ready for take off, inflating a balloon called Hummingbird Jewel. Photo: Federation Fotos
On fire: Pilot Doug Grimes gets ready for take off, inflating a balloon called Hummingbird Jewel. Photo: Federation Fotos

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Do you know how a hot air balloon is steered? Or why it stays in the sky? Can you guess how much one of these colourful creations costs?

With almost 40 years of hot air under his belt, Adam Barrow happily answered some tricky ballooning questions:

Q. With no steering wheel, how do pilots get the balloon from point A to B?

Basically you steer with altitude. The wind isn’t the same as you move up into the sky. It changes direction a lot the higher you go into the atmosphere. 

The wind will tend to go around hills and changes shape, so it’s a matter of the pilot using the shapes on the ground, like trees, valleys, rivers and hills, to help get to a particular location. As well as knowing what the wind is doing as you go up in the sky, because it might be completely different up there.

Balloons can achieve limited steering by changing altitude and picking up different wind currents. 

​Q. When is the normal flying season?

Balloonists can be seen in the skies from the beginning of autumn until the end of spring. Hot, unstable weather is the balloonist’s kryptonite. We only go up in the air when the air inside the balloon is hotter than the air outside the balloon, so summer’s out. The weather in summer is unpredictable and we need stable conditions for flying.

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Q. What types of balloons are there?

Racing balloons and passenger balloons. Racing balloons are a tenth of the size of passenger balloons. They fit one or two people, passenger balloons are like mini buses, holding 15-25 people.

Q. ​How much does a racing balloon cost?

Average price is $40,000.

Q. ​What are balloons made of?

There’s the balloon (called an envelope) and the basket. The envelope is generally made of ripstop nylon, much like cloth used for yacht sails. The strength of the material comes from the fabric’s criss-cross weave and the balloon has a special polyurethane coating on the inside which stops the air escaping  – which is what helps it stay inflated for so long. 

Q. ​How many people are involved?

One in the air and a crew of two or three on the ground helping navigate, read the winds and develop strategy. A good pit crew is pivotal to success.

This story Going up: a lowdown first appeared on Canowindra News.