What goes up must come down. That goes for almost everything that flies, including the hot air balloon you plan on riding in soon. Ahead of your scheduled trip, one thing you’re wondering is how does the hot air balloon land?
Hot air balloons land by reducing hot air, such as by releasing the air through a vent in the canopy of the balloon. The balloon pilot will also turn off the burner system to introduce more cool air. They have a preselected landing spot they will aim for, and before you know it, you’re down on the ground again.
In this article, we’ll explain in much more detail the landing process of a hot air balloon. We’ll also provide other pertinent information such as your landing speed and how to safely get out of the basket. Make sure you keep reading!
How Does a Hot Air Balloon Land?
Before we can explain how a hot air balloon can land, we first have to discuss the flight process. We just touched on this in a related article, so this will serve as a recap.
To ascend, a hot air balloon must have more warm air than cold air. The reason for this is that heat rises. The less-dense hot air fills the hot air balloon–also known as the envelope–and provides the necessary lift so you and your guests can enjoy a balloon-led flight in the skies.
Yet where does the hot air come from? Through what’s known as a burner system. The balloon pilot controls the burner system, which may be a single-burner or two-burner system. The burners are aimed at the center of the envelope, so that when engaged, they can blow heat right into the balloon.
To activate the pilot light that triggers the burner system, the balloon captain will use a blast valve. The blast valve also gives the balloon captain the power to add more propane to the burner, which will, in turn, make more heat. The propane vaporizes and generates a flame that’s as tall as eight feet. The rate of heat production is somewhere in the ballpark of 12 million British thermal units or BTUs an hour.
The balloon pilot will use a metering valve or turn on the blast valve sporadically to maintain the heat so you can continue flying, but what about when they want to land the balloon? They have one of two ways of doing this.
The first is to simply turn on the blast valve occasionally. Cool air doesn’t rise at the same rate as hot air, so prolonged flight is no longer possible. The cold air is also denser, which doesn’t help your buoyancy.
Yet how long it takes for the heated air to cool can vary, so the balloon pilot may decide to use the balloon canopy’s vent as well. This vent is intended for gradually releasing hot air. As the hot air escapes from the vent, you begin to come down.
Where Do You Land During a Hot Air Balloon Ride?
Reducing height by eliminating hot air is only one part of the landing process. The balloon pilot also has to land you on the ground, but how?
Hot air balloon pilots communicate with the ground crew to land in a soft, level spot near a road that’s free of nearby animals and especially power lines. You may land by trees, but you won’t collide with them.
Although you don’t see the ground crew when you’re thousands of feet up, the balloon pilot is in constant contact with them. That’s especially the case as you get nearer to landing, as the ground crew is in a much better position to select a landing spot for your hot air balloon than the balloon pilot is.
Landing spots are chosen with several criteria in mind. The ground crew needs to be able to get to the hot air balloon if need be, so you’ll always land somewhere close to a road. You may be near a field, but this will be an open field free of animals such as sheep or cows. The spot must also be away from power lines that can entangle the hot air balloon and make landing dangerous.
That said, a tree-filled area is a spot in which a hot air balloon pilot might land. Sometimes it can seem like your balloon is plummeting straight for a tree line, which is scary, but that’s not what’s happening at all. Your basket won’t even touch the tops of the trees, as the balloon pilot is an experienced professional who can navigate around trees.
Are landings always gentle and smooth? Ideally, yes, but realistically, no. Factors outside of the balloon pilot’s control can influence the quality of the landing. For example, if it’s a decently windy day, you might not get the softest landing. The basket can hit the ground a couple of times before it comes to a complete stop.
Another situation that can cause a somewhat bumpy landing is if the ground-level air is faster than anticipated, such as 5 miles per hour or over. Should your hot air balloon be going at 5+ MPH, the basket will likely drag. In some instances, it even tips over.
Please know that you’re at virtually no risk of injury at this point. For first-time hot air balloon rides, a bouncy landing can be sort of scary, but others grow to look forward to it. Yes, that’s right, there’s a whole sector of hot air balloon riders who prefer a bumpy landing. The landing adds some thrill to hot air ballooning, which is otherwise a very straightforward and relaxing way to see the skies.
How Fast Does the Hot Air Balloon Descend During Landing?
One of your concerns during the hot air balloon landing is that you’ll descend too quickly. Although it’s hard to say at which speed you’ll travel, we can tell you confidently that you won’t come tumbling out of the air at an alarming rate. To prevent an uncomfortable freefall feeling like you get when descending the lift hill on a roller coaster, the balloon pilot will use the blast valve periodically.
You’re only flying in a hot air balloon at a rate of 5 to 10 MPH, so landing will be slower than that. As we said in the last section, a fast landing can make your hot air balloon basket tip or scrape against the ground, both of which are scenarios that the balloon pilot will want to avoid. Thus, your landing speed may be even slower than 5 MPH.
Do keep in mind though that the experience of landing in a hot air balloon will always be a little different each time it happens. Your landing speed will be dictated by such factors as wind speed and the weather. However, uniformly, you will not feel like you’re in freefall during the landing process. The balloon pilot goes to great lengths to prevent those stomach-churning feelings.
How Much Time Do You Get in a Hot Air Balloon Before Landing?
If you’re nervous about both the ascension and descension processes when riding in a hot air balloon, the good news is that you get ample time between the two. As we wrote about in this post, the average airtime of a hot air balloon ride is an hour or two. Some trips are even shorter in duration, such as 45 minutes.
You may come across some ballooning companies that offer three-hour rides, but that’s pretty much the longest amount of time available. This is already going to be a much more expensive trip than flying for just an hour, which can turn some people away.
Plus, once you’re up in the sky for that long, you start to run into some issues. It can be hard for some people to go three hours without a bathroom trip or with no food. Sure, you could bring a snack or several if you’re allowed, but there aren’t any bathrooms on a hot air balloon.
However much time the hot air ballooning company offers, keep in mind that the time you’re booking includes roundtrip travel time. This means you’re not spending all 60 to 120 minutes ballooning.
How Do You Get Out of the Hot Air Balloon Basket?
The hot air balloon basket or gondola is where you sit and ride. Depending on the style of the basket, it may feature a hatched door that the ground crew or the balloon pilot can open so you can get in. Then they’ll close and lock the door before the ascent.
If your basket doesn’t have an openable, lockable door, then you’ll have to climb over and into the basket. Do make sure you’re wearing pants or shorts and not a skirt, ladies. It’s for your own modesty.
The way you got into the basket is the same way you’ll exit when your hot air balloon is once again on the ground. If it’s as easy as walking out the open door, then so be it, but you also may have to climb out.
Landing a hot air balloon requires more cold air than hot air in the envelope or balloon, such as through venting the hot air out. The balloon pilot and their ground crew ensure that landing the balloon is a smooth, gradual, and often gentle process. In the hands of a capable team, you don’t have to stress about landing!