Balloon Fiesta 2008
Balloon Fiesta: How to make a hot-air balloon
By Louise Porter
In the build-up to this year's Bristol International Balloon Fiesta we've been talking to the people behind the event. This week, we go behind-the-scenes at Cameron Balloons in Bedminster.
A rooster, duck and a sheep were reportedly the unofficial passengers aboard the first hot air balloon flight in France 1783. Fast-forward to 2008 and the passengers have changed and so too has the ballooning industry, with one Bristol company flying to international success.
Cameron Balloons, established by director Don Cameron in 1971, is known as the world’s largest manufacturer of hot air balloons.
Two world records are held by Cameron Balloon R series for distance and duration including the July 2002 non-stop balloon flight around the world set by Steve Fossett.
The manufacturing of balloons is big business. Mr Cameron says 80 per cent of the balloons manufactured at the Bristol factory are exported across the world, with approximately three balloons made per week.
Jonathon Smith cuts nylon sections
The Montgolfier brothers from Annonay, France created the first hot air balloon, with the first official hot air balloon flight made on 21 November 1783.
The basic balloon structure and concept has remained the same with technology improving flying safety.
Mr Cameron says although ballooning is the oldest form of flight, the future for ballooning is computer-generated designs.
“There is always something new meeting modern possibilities,” he says.
The basket is usually made of wicker because it is durable, flexible and able to withstand the impact of a flight landing by absorbing the shock.
The term wicker is the process of weaving the willow branches together to build a basket. Mr Cameron says the baskets are made off location in Somerset, an area known for its wickerwork.
According to Mr Cameron, using plastic to make the basket has been discussed but is not currently used.
“The baskets are very much a tradition. People expect it,” Mr Cameron says.
Next is the burner which supplies hot air to the balloon. The hot air allows the balloon to rise and to gain altitude.
During historical times, an open fire pit was used in the basket to create the hot air but with modern technologies, cylinders of propane gas are used.
Marion Wassell sewing a balloon together
A thick pipe takes propane to a high-pressure valve and a thin pipe from the cylinder carries the gas to the pilot light. The valve is opened to release a stream of propane gas. The pilot flame ignites this and heats the air inside the balloon.
According to Mr Cameron, the use of propane gas in cylinders gives the pilot more control.
Balloonists use the term envelope for the balloon itself. The nylon material is cut in to labelled sections and is sewn together.
In the balloon’s early days, the envelope was made from cloth and paper making it fragile and dangerous with the use of open fires to create the hot air.
The envelope made today uses a durable and fireproof nylon. Mr Cameron says the balloon is reinforced using web straps similar to a seat belt design to make the envelope stronger.
According to Mr Cameron, the whole process of manufacturing a balloon takes approximately six weeks. On average, a basic balloon can cost 12,000 GBP.
“Balloons are much simpler than other types of aircraft,” Mr Cameron says.
last updated: 15/07/2008 at 12:10