Sport balloons get their lift from hot air.

Balloons are often mistaken for UFOs. Weather balloons at high altitudes are visible over a wide area and may catch the light of a setting sun and appear as brilliant dots in the darkening sky. Hot air, sport balloons, as well as blimps may also be misidentified.

The first balloon flight was made on June 5, 1783 in France. The balloon, using hot air for lift, was constructed by Joseph and Elienne Montgolfier. It climbed to 5,906 feet and traveled nearly a mile. A few months later on November 21st, of that year, Pilatre de Rozier and marquis d'Arlandes made the first manned flight, also in a Montgolfier balloon.

Balloons are large bags filled with a gas that is less dense, or lighter, than the air on the outside of the bag. The less dense gas rises, the same way a bubble of air does in water, carrying the bag with it.

Balloons come in several designs. The typical round bag is used in sport and weather balloons. Dirigible designs are long and sausage shaped. Dirigibles are divided into airships with rigid frames, called zeppelins, and ones with no frame, called blimps. Unlike sport balloons most dirigibles have motors that allow the ship to sail where the pilot wishes, rather than just being guided by the wind.

The gas inside the bag is usually either normal air that has been heated (the temperature makes it less dense), hydrogen, or helium. Hot air is used in most smaller sport balloons, but is unsuitable for larger airships where it cools too quickly. Instead helium or hydrogen gas is used.

Helium and hydrogen are two gases which are lighter than air even at the same temperature as the air. Today helium is almost universally used for non-hot air balloons because of the explosive nature of hydrogen. Helium wasn't discovered until 1895 and could be difficult to get even after it became commercially available in 1918. Hydrogen is cheap (it can be readily made by splitting water apart) and provides more lift. This led to a disaster in 1937 when the zeppelin Hindenburg caught fire in Lakehurst, New Jersey killing more than seventy people.

Today, of the dirigible design, only helium blimps are operated. The famous Goodyear Blimp is used for advertising around the world. Interestingly enough despite it's disc shape, when seen from a distance, at least one study indicates that it does not spawn surge of UFO reports when it is visiting an area.

A weather ballon can rise to a height of 30 miles.



Copyright Lee Krystek 2007. All Rights Reserved.


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