How do you get where you want to go in a hot air balloon? (Aren’t you at the mercy of the wind).


The classic hot air balloon with the round balloon and gas burner thing. It’s easy to see how it goes up or down, but how do people go where they want to – or get back!

In: 4072

We flew in a hot air balloon a few years back and it’s pretty technical. The pilots had iPads that tracked the wind’s direction at different altitudes throughout the flight and were in constant communication with the ground crew. They adjusted the altitude to catch the wind going in the direction they want to go. It’s very interesting because the basket appears to swing around and act as a sail to catch the breeze and send you in the direction you are aiming for.

To be honest, I think they don’t actually know where they will exactly land/end up prior to setting up for the day’s flight – someone will correct me if this is not right. We got to a potential taking off site and they released little balloons to see which way then wind was generally going (if conditions weren’t right, I believe they move to another site and try again). Then they decided if they were taking off at that site or not. Once we were in the air they told us we were heading in a particular direction and were aiming to land at a certain property.

As for getting back – we were followed by a ground crew who picked up the 20-odd passengers on our flight and a trailer that the balloon was loaded onto when we landed. I guess people who fly balloons for fun and don’t have passengers must rely on their own ground crew to get back to where they started.

It was a great experience, would do it again.

Yeah in my experiance they wait for the right conditions to go in roughly the right direction and have multiple landing spaces in an arc depending where they go. If wind is wrong they cancel, had 2 trips cancelled myself before going up. Was great experiance thou.

I have crewed for a balloon team for a number of years. Balloon festivals are also typically competitions. The pilots will either have a bean bag they have to throw at a target, or there will be a balloon that has to be chased, or even a giant pole with car keys on top they try to snag, among other tasks. By carefully reviewing wind directions at different altitudes, they can then go up or down to go in different directions. I saw a guy go over the same spot *3 times* in the 2 hour window they were allotted; he noticed that the winds went in 3 wildly different directions and was able to loop back to nearly where he started (his flight path looked like big triangles). I have also seen somebody win that free car when he started miles away.

So while you don’t have a true steering mechanism, pilots definitely know where they are going and have a pretty good idea of how to get there.

Not an expert but have been to a few Balloon Fiestas. As others have said the wind blows in different directions at different altitudes.

At one fiesta the wind at ground level and higher up was blowing in opposite directions. Allowing the pilots to take off, fly off, back overhead and land back in the arena they started from. Its fair to say a number of pilots missed the arena and balloons were landing all over the place, but it was an amazing site to behold.

The coriolis effect makes wind direction change with altitude fairly predictable. Wind is pushed to the right or left (depending on the hemisphere youre in) because of the rotation of the earth. When you’re at lower altitude wind flows more slowly due to friction with the surface, and the slower the wind the less the rotation of the earth curves its path.

So you “turn” by climbing or descending.