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Hot air balloon

A balloon ( Greek βάλλον ballon , German 'thrown' ; from βάλλω ballo ' to throw') is in today's parlance a (at least when filled) self-supporting, gas-tight envelope with a bulbous, round shape that is or is filled with gas or liquid can be.

The debate in the High German is [ Balo ] or [ balɔŋ ] and varies in the southern German-speaking countries : . South German Stud Books , Austrian. And Switzerland. : [ baˈloːn ].

Some balloon-shaped objects have the term in their designation; common and known are:

Types and Uses

Depth charges
Pilot balloon
Gas balloon (AirCrane in the Cargolifter hall)

In contrast to tethered balloons, free balloons are not connected to the ground. They are blown through the air by the wind.

Small balloons (volume a few liters)

Medium balloons (volume a few hundred to 4000 liters)

  • Transport and dropping of incendiary bombs (in World War II, see also: FUGU balloon )
  • Transporting and dropping leaflets (during World War II and the Cold War)
  • For towing wire antennas for mobile long and long wave transmitters, as with the test transmitter GQV 2003
  • Transport of measuring devices, d. H. as a balloon probe , in particular as a weather balloon
  • Pilot balloons for measuring the height of the clouds and the direction and speed of the wind
  • Captive balloons , for example advertising media
  • Model balloons , mostly remote controlled
  • Party balloon - small hot air balloons

Large balloons (volume 2200 to 12000 cubic meters)


Another application is the balloon satellite ; Like every satellite, it is launched into Earth orbit by a rocket and is filled with tiny amounts of gas in order to expand into a large volume in space.

Other uses of balloons

  • Medicine - Inflatable balloon catheters , for example, dilate blood vessels. Inflating balloons with the mouth therapeutically trains the breathing function. So-called nose balloons can in children for pain relief for middle ear infections are used.
  • Music, acoustics - the membrane of a gas-filled balloon can be hit like an eardrum, but it can also be made to vibrate by rubbing it with a damp finger. Filled balloons are objects that can vibrate, the larger the lower the frequency. A particularly low frequency is achieved by (moderate) filling with a much heavy fluid, such as water, lying on a smooth floor. The discharge of the filling gas through the cross-stretched neck of a latex balloon produces sounds in a manner similar to that of the vocal cords . The burst creates a bang. Judy Dunaway makes music with balloons.
  • Toy - An air-filled balloon acts as an accumulator for the recoil drive of a small car. With the small balloon helicopter , the air is expelled at the ends of the (usually three) rotor blades.
  • Latex balloons as a gas-tight disposable liner for light balls with a textile cover, core with valve for sports balls sewn from leather
  • Water bomb - a small latex balloon than a projectile that bursts on impact
  • Decoration - air or helium-filled individually or as a tuft, leash, garland; cord attached to high or low anchoring points, cord tensioned between 2 points; bound or glued to arches, racks, figures, smooth surfaces; wedged in a gap; covering the floor or the ceiling.
    • Spiral garlands (actually: double helix ) - pairs of balloons knotted together, strung together in a gap by twisting the knots with nylon wire or rope; 1 to 4 colors
    • Figure balloons - mainly made of foil and with a print, then often contoured, sometimes with appendages (possibly standing legs) or as a letter / number or an arrow that can be written on
    • Latex balloons with 3 thin appendages that do not inflate when being filled can be knotted together like a grid.
  • Stage - The boarding or climb-in balloon offers space and air for one or even several people. The piercing frees.
  • Modeling - thin long modeling balloons are stretched, twisted and knotted into objects (sword, crown), figures and animal motifs
  • As a form to work with - balloons are coated with paste and pasted with paper to obtain a light, spherical hollow body.
  • Experiments in physics and chemistry use the latex balloon as an elastic medium to store mostly gases - with or without pressure, or as a float,
  • In low-temperature physics refrigeration systems, valuable helium is temporarily stored in rubber-coated textile balloons suspended in frames for reuse
  • Inflatables are advertising objects made by welding or sewing foil, fabric tarpaulin or textiles. They are filled by blowers and kept taut, possibly illuminated from the inside, and moved through outflow openings.
  • Kytoon, the combination of kite and balloon, is used for wind-tolerant lifting of radio antennas, fishing lines and cameras
  • Fetish - The feel, the tones, the shiny plump appearance, the surprisingly loud burst is loved by many - up to the point of becoming a fetish.
  • Lifting balloons are air-filled bags under water that are used to lift loads, for example to erect or lift a sunken ship. The buoyancy factor is the density of water, 800 times that of air. Made of tear-resistant fabric tarpaulin, lifting balloons are usually open at the bottom so that the air that expands when ascending can swell out.
  • In 2009, DARPA carried out an experiment on swarm intelligence . For a prize money of $ 40,000, the aim was to find places that were kept secret across the United States and where ten red balloons were visible for a few hours on a December day. The experimental set-up should encourage a collaborative search. The experiment was successful; all ten locations were found.

Hot air and gas balloon

The filling gas used is generally air ( hot air balloon , air balloon ) or a carrier gas such as helium or hydrogen ( gas balloon ), possibly also water vapor ( hot steam balloon ) . The balloon can be closed in the filled state, whereby the enclosed gas can also be under pressure . The common designs of manned balloons have a downward opening. As a result, the light lifting gas cannot escape, but changes in pressure or deformation of the envelope due to the heating of the gas or when changing the flight altitude are avoided.

Until the 20th century, balloons and airships were also known as aerostats . In parlance, manned balloons are not flown , but driven , see ballooning # Driving or flying . The crew members of balloons are the balloonists and were also called "airshipmen" in the beginning.

Balloon baptism

The pilot usually performs a special ritual for first-time balloon pilots. The participants toast the ride and swear never to say “balloon flying” again and also to help every balloonist they meet and to give their full pilot name when asked. If this cannot be said, it costs one round for all balloonists. Then a lock of the first driver is singed by the pilot (for the fire that brought you into the air) and extinguished with champagne (for the water (as part of the air) that you carried) and earth is strewn on your head (on which you landed is) "baptized". Another tradition is the awarding of nobility titles such as: "Lovely floating damsel Christine over Neuschwanstein". This tradition dates back to the time when only nobles were allowed to balloon. Nowadays the ritual is also known under the English name "Propane and Champagne".


Heating the air in the hot air balloon

The balloon rises because the gas inside (be it warm air or a trapped gas) has a lower density than cold air. To be more precise: The mass of the entire balloon including the filling gas is the same as the mass of the displaced air when in suspension (see Archimedes principle ). If its mass is less, it increases; if it is larger, it sinks.

Balloon gas

Man-carrying gas balloons (like airships) are usually filled with hydrogen in balloon sport . The main reason is that helium would be many times more expensive and the lifting gas at the destination usually simply has to be left out, since a balloon with a typically> 6 m diameter cannot be transported over roads; recompressing gas in steel cylinders is a very laborious process. Furthermore, helium with molecular weight 4 is twice as heavy (dense) as hydrogen with H 2 molecular weight 2, which results in at least 8% less buoyancy due to the lower density difference to (moist) air and finally helium flows much easier because of its smaller atom through membranes and leaks as the dumbbell-shaped hydrogen molecule.

Since hydrogen is flammable and highly flammable, and can even detonate when mixed with air , extreme care must be taken, especially during the filling process. Not only is there an absolute ban on smoking, of course, but less obvious hazards such as electrostatic charging must be taken into account by taking appropriate safety precautions (using conductive balloon covers). Frictional electricity can arise between the shell and the floor, between people and the floor, through the filler neck and the shell. In addition, there are silent discharges of atmospheric electricity .

A tethered balloon, which is anchored to the ground by means of a winch, can repeatedly lift a pinecone collector up to treetop height, and can be used with one filling for several days if the weather permits lashing close to the ground overnight and work can continue nearby.

Filling with hydrogen, closing and starting latex weather balloons are now partially automated, and humans monitor the process from a safe distance.

NASA's Ultra-Long-Duration Balloons (ULDB) have been starting in 1991 for near-polar flights, mainly from Antarctica with a duration of up to 54 days to high altitudes (30–40 km) with mostly unpressurized, transparent foil balloons, they inflate according to the decrease in pressure only fully open at the highest altitude and are filled with helium for loads of up to 2000 kg, i.e. at least 2000  m³ of helium, corresponding to around 220 steel cylinders with 50 liters and 200 bar filling pressure.


For safety reasons , only the non-flammable noble gas helium is permitted as balloon gas for children's balloons that are supposed to be buoyant - in Austria since about 2000 by the Chemicals Act .


History of hot air balloons

Hydrogen balloon Prof. Charles

According to historical tradition, hot air balloons or a precursor of them were used for the first time in China by Zhuge Liang (* 181; † 234). On his campaigns he invented, among other things, a small hot air balloon that was driven by a candle and served as a signal. This invention is still called the Kong-Ming lantern in China and is used as a kind of fireworks display. It was probably never used to transport people or goods, but due to its functional principle it is the forerunner of the modern hot air balloon and differs from it essentially only in its smaller size and the use of a frame as in the airship .

In Europe, the story begins with the paper manufacturer Joseph Michel Montgolfier and his brother Jacques Étienne Montgolfier . They first tried to operate the prototypes they had developed with water vapor; however, switched to hot air when this method was found to be more effective. According to an anecdote, one day they were said to have observed a woman who lit a fire under the clothesline to make the laundry dry faster. They are said to have noticed that the large sheets bulged up even though there was no wind. After much experimentation, they found that the fire had warmed the air, which had risen to the top and inflated the sheets.

On June 7, 9 or 14, 1783 (the sources differ here), they let the first larger balloon rise in front of an audience in Annonay . The balloon was made of canvas and sealed with paper. The flight is reported to have taken around 10 minutes, with the balloon said to have ascended to an altitude of 1.5 km. Since they were not scientists, they assumed that it was the smoke that made the balloon rise. Therefore they preferred very smoking fires with straw and sheep's wool to heat the air.

When King Louis XVI. found out about it, he asked the brothers to demonstrate this balloon to him. At the same time he gave the order to the Academy of Sciences to conduct experiments with the aerial sphere in Paris.

History of the gas balloon

Cover of the balloon " Ad Astra ", which rose on January 28, 1784 in Braunschweig .

Jacques Alexandre César Charles worked very differently from the Montgolfier brothers . Since he was interested in the physics of ballooning as a physicist, he approached the project entrusted to him by the king in a completely different way. Thanks to his knowledge of gases, he was able to use their properties and, together with the brothers Anne-Jean Robert and Marie-Noël Robert, constructed a dense silk balloon. He filled it with hydrogen gas.

The first successful flight was on August 27, 1783. The balloon had a diameter of around four meters and could carry up to nine kilograms. The flight lasted 45 minutes and led from the Paris Field of Mars to the neighboring village of Gonesse. However, the residents of the village thought the balloon was a monster from hell and pushed it on its body with pitchforks and scythes. Apart from that, Charles could chalk up the flight as a success, because he had also proven that it is not the smoke that makes the balloon rise. In addition, the hydrogen gas balloon was named Charlière after him.

Charles and Marie-Noël Robert carried out the first manned gas balloon flight on December 1, 1783, whereby the production of the necessary hydrogen gas from iron filings and sulfuric acid took almost three days. It stayed in the air for two hours and then made a stopover in the village of Nesles-la-Vallée, 36 kilometers away. Then Charles rose on his own again. This made him the first person to go up in a balloon alone. Despite this success, he had lost the competition with the Montgolfier brothers - by only 10 days. But Charles wasn't completely defeated, because the hydrogen gas balloons soon replaced the Montgolfiers, as you could stay in the air with them for several hours. The hot air balloons, however, ran out of fuel after a short time.

The first (unmanned) balloon flight in Germany took place on January 28, 1784 in Braunschweig with the Ad Astra balloon .

History of the hot-air-gas hybrid balloons

At that time there were already people who dealt with the combination of the two buoyancy media, lifting gas and hot air. For example, the French physicist and the world's first balloonist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier . He developed a balloon that consisted of a sphere filled with hydrogen gas, to the lower side of which an air-filled cylinder was attached. This type of construction with separate areas for hot air and gas is named after him to this day ( Rozière ) - regardless of the choice of carrier gas used .

On June 15, 1785, he started with such a vehicle from Boulogne-sur-Mer with the aim of crossing the English Channel. The hot air soon warmed the hydrogen so much that the gas envelope threatened to burst. By means of an externally on the shell upwardly reaching hemp rope was able to actuate a drain valve Rozier, but was static electricity on the envelope, the electrostatic discharge then lit the flowing hydrogen gas in 900 meters. While the gas burned down, the aircraft fell on the mainland just offshore. Rozier and his rider Pierre Romain died shortly afterwards, still at the crash site. This made them the first aviation casualties. At this point in time, all the other hybrid balloons also had to struggle with design inadequacies and did not produce any notable successes.

The roziers, which have been in use since the 1970s, are filled with non-flammable carrier gases. While normal hot air balloons can travel for a few hours and manned gas balloons for a few days, Rozières are particularly suitable for trips lasting several weeks. Apart from Richard Branson's crossings of the Atlantic and Pacific with huge hot air balloons, these routes and the two successful circumnavigations of the world were only accomplished with helium-filled roziers.

The rest of the story

Stratospheric research capsule 1930

French officers used a balloon for long-range military reconnaissance before the Battle of Fleurus and in June 1794 at the Battle of Maubeuge.

Friedrich Wilhelm Jungius undertook the first German balloon flight over Berlin in 1805 for scientific purposes.

James Glaisher , director of the Greenwich Meteorological Institute, and balloon pilot Henry Tracey Coxwell reached a height of 9,000 meters in an open balloon basket in 1862. They had prepared a scientific program to research the origin of certain weather phenomena and the limits of human viability. They had neither oxygen nor pressure suits on board. Both researchers fainted intermittently and only the fact that the balloon began to sink on its own saved their lives.

On December 4, 1894, the Berlin meteorologist Arthur Berson reached a height of 9,155 meters on a solo trip in the Phönix balloon . He was able to beat this record again on July 31, 1901. Together with Reinhard Süring , he rose to an altitude of 10,800 meters in the Preussen balloon . Both balloonists fainted despite breathing oxygen, but the measuring devices continued to register the air pressure and thus the altitude. The trip contributed to the discovery of the stratosphere in 1902.

The multiple Gordon Bennett Cup participant Hugo Kaulen set world records in December 1913 (2,800 kilometers in 87 hours, from Bitterfeld to Perm / Ural Mountains ). Hans Rudolf Berliner, Alexander Haase and Nikolai covered 3,053 km from February 8 to 10, 1914. Both records lasted until 1976.

The greatest height in the open basket in the history of ballooning was reached - the balloon pilot Alexander Dahl , the meteorologist Dr. Galbas and Walter Popp on August 31, 1933 in the special high altitude balloon Bartsch von Sigsfeld at 11,300 meters. The last high altitude flight with the "Bartsch von Sigsfeld" balloon brought the aeronautical engineer Martin Schrenk and the meteorologist Victor Masuch to their deaths on May 13, 1934.

For the first time with a hermetically sealed cabin, the physicist Auguste Piccard climbed to 16,201 meters (air pressure measurement) and 16,940 meters ( geometric measurement ) in height.

The Manhigh project of the American Air Force brought various records in 1957/1958, including the first man on the border to space (29,900 m) and the highest parachute jump (in connection with the first ejection seats for aircraft). The project was later continued by NASA and from Apollo 7 the principle of parachutes was used for the braking parachutes.

In October 1976 Paul Edward Yost set new records on his solo Atlantic flight (3,938 km in 107: 37 h). The manned altitude record was held from 1961 to 2012 by Malcolm D. Ross and Victor E. Prather, who rose to an altitude of 34,668 meters over the Gulf of Mexico . The Austrian Felix Baumgartner broke this record on October 14, 2012 when he rose to 39,045 meters in a helium balloon over New Mexico . It was surpassed with 41,422 meters by Alan Eustace in October 2014. Both jumped off with a parachute and thus set new height records in the parachute jump.


  • Heinrich Zeise the Elder Ä .: Aeronautics before and now, along with theoretical and practical proposals for a more perfected art of aeronautics and the use of the ball for technical and industrial purposes . Lectures given by H. Zeise, pharmacist at the Altona Citizens' Association in the winter of 1849/50. Folded on 1 with drawings (lithograph by F. Würzbach in Altona). Leaf. Altona. On commission with Carl Theod. Schlueter, 1850
  • Jürgen Link: “Influence of flying! - On the style itself! ”Discourse analysis of the balloon symbol . In: Jürgen Link, Wulf Wülfing (Ed.): Movement and standstill in metaphors and myths. Case studies on the relationship between elementary knowledge and literature in the 19th century . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-608-91251-7 (Language and History, Vol. 9), pp. 149-164
  • Wolfgang Nairz: ballooning between the Alps and the Himalayas . Ablinger & Garber, Hall in Tirol 2001, ISBN 3-9500523-7-2

Web links

Wiktionary: Ballon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Balloon  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Otitis media: nasal balloon facilitates ventilation of the tympanic cavity. In: Deutsches Ärzteblatt. July 27, 2015, accessed January 7, 2016 .
  2. Experiments for children: balloon helicopters. In: Retrieved June 16, 2015 .
  3. ^ Physiotherapy in paediatrics . Georg-Thieme-Verlag, 2004, ISBN 978-3-13-129511-8 , p. 175,
  4. Deutschlandradio Kultur
  5. ^ Peter Gorham: NASA Long Duration Balloon Program. (PDF) University of Hawaii, lecture at CERN, September / November 2012; accessed January 18, 2016.
  6. Braunschweiger Luftfahrtgeschichte e. V. (Ed.): Braunschweigische Luftfahrtgeschichte. Appelhans Verlag, Braunschweig 2010, ISBN 978-3-941737-18-1 , p. 48.
  7. Battle of Maubeuge
  8. ^ Lexicon of Aviation by Niels Klußmann, Arnim Malik, 2006, p. 320 Internet source
  9. a b Deutscher Freiballonsport-Verband eV, German record list as of December 1, 2011. ( MS Word ; 837 kB) In: Retrieved November 26, 2012 .
  10. named after the airship designer Hans Bartsch von Sigsfeld , who had an accident in a balloon flight in 1902
  11. 15 Minutes of Free Fall Required Years of Taming Scientific Challenges . The New York Times , October 27, 2014
    Google manager breaks Felix Baumgartner's record . Sueddeutsche , October 25, 2014