So how does this simple yet marvellous contraption work? The answer lies in the wind and the air. Since hot air balloons are subject to the movement of the wind, the air remains still in the basket, except for the times when the balloon is speeding up, climbing or descending. The balloon is able to stay afloat by the constant heating of the air in the balloon which causes it to rise.
Ballooning like any mode of transport has its risks and dangers. Landing is one of the trickiest parts of ballooning. Smooth landings can be hampered if the ground wind speed exceeds 5 miles per hour. Under certain circumstances the basket can even drag or tip over, but prior to the flight, passengers are taught about the safe landing procedures and what to do in case of an emergency. However, accidents do happen and passengers are advised quickly to stay away from the side that is going down. It is best advised to land near a line of trees or in a valley.
The major dangers with hot air ballooning is reaching excessive speeds when landing, colliding with another balloon in the air or hitting high voltage electricity lines. In fact, power lines pose the biggest threat and are the most common cause of major ballooning disasters. However, licensed balloon operators make it their business to know where power lines are and avoid them at all costs, even if they have to land on a road.
The earliest known hot air balloon flights were done in the Chinese Shu Kingdom when military leader, Zhuge Liang used them as signals for his military campaigns. The first recorded balloon that carried passengers was accomplished in France in 1783. Later, hot air balloons were used at the Battle of Fleurus by the Austrians in 1794, again for military purposes.
The modern balloons that we use today were designed by Ed Yost in 1960. The first flight occurred in October over Bruning, Nebraska. Today balloons are mainly used for tours and recreation. In fact, over seven thousand hot air balloons are in regular operation across the country.