For an object that appears to be simply constructed, a hot air balloon is a surprisingly complex. They use a combination of synthetic and authentic materials designed to keep hot air balloons safely in the air as well as providing the support for easy descents. Although hot air balloons come in a variety of sizes and colors; all balloons have standard primary parts. These include a basket or gondola, the envelope, and the burner.
Incredibly, most modern hot air balloon baskets maintain a basic design reminiscent of the earliest balloons created in the 18th century. Baskets or gondolas are generally constructed out of rattan and usually edged by a natural fabric like leather, suede or rawhide. Most basket floors are constructed out of plywood with steel wires connecting the basket to the burner. At least two propane tanks power the burner’s flame. Its job is to control how fast the balloon ascends into the air. Baskets have great durability, sustaining over 800 flying hours before needing to be replaced.
One of the most important elements of hot air balloons is its envelope. The envelope is woven out of a mesh consisting of different kinds of yarn, nylon, and polyester. The mesh is key to allowing the air to breathe through the material, which is sturdy and pliable but also quite light. After the fabric is woven, a strong silicone or synthetic rubber sealant is applied to protect the envelope from damaging ultraviolet sun rays.
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Envelopes have stress-reducing features that help the hot air balloon work more efficiently even with the least possible amount of fabric. Gores or sectional panels have a slight curvature and come in three different varieties:
Diagonal gores produce the most efficient use of an envelope’s fabric.
Hot air balloons also contain parachutes that, along with other safety features, help to steady and control how fast balloons descend. A rip panel using the same parachute material, creates another opening known as a vent, which is sealed with a velcro tab. A net supports the basket and evenly distributes the balloon’s weight. For hot air balloons to work, everything must be in perfect balance.
Most people are mesmerized by a hot air balloon’s colors. But the balloon ‘s shape is the key to the physics of what makes it fly. These shapes have different uses, producing different results. A teardrop-shaped balloon may use less energy but have the ability to ascend into the sky at a faster rate of speed. A round hot air balloon may economize on the amount of fabric in the envelope but the benefit is less area for the burner to heat.
Hot air balloons do reflect a method to the madness. We can enjoy their bright colors and appreciate their beauty as they drift lazily over the treetops. But, remember, there’s considerable engineering and physics that go into the functionality of a hot air balloon.
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