Polymath A (mostly) technical weblog for Archivale.com

December 5, 2009

Can You Really Build a Hot-Air Balloon?

Filed under: Aeronautics,Lighter than Air — piolenc @ 2:12 pm

The answer is a qualified “yes.” Here’s what the rigger who literally wrote the book on this subject has to say in the Foreword to his three-and-a-half-volume compendium Build Your Own Balloon:

“This book has been prepared as a guide for the aspiring balloon owner who does not realize the many considerations and details that go into its construction. This book has not been written to encourage individuals to undertake such a  project, but by explaining engineering details it is hoped that you will consult a commercial manufacturer of FAA Type Certificated sport balloons for quality made equipment.

It is realized that many readers will give serious consideration to homebuilt construction; which is, of course, a noble undertaking. Not however without the pitfalls of high cost and poor balloon life; or worse yet, unsafe equipment that the FAA may not let you fly, or may subject to severe operating limitations.

So yes, it can be done, but not just anybody should do it. The author quoted above makes it clear that most of the people who read his book should probably NOT undertake the construction of a balloon. Traits required to do the job successfully are persistence, patience and above all the ability to critically evaluate one’s own work, or at least to listen with an open mind to constructive criticism by others.

Few things look simpler than a hot-air balloon. There’s this big bag filled with hot air, a basket underneath, something to provide heat (where did I put that old camp stove…?). No problem, right? All that’s left to procure is the sandwiches and Champagne.

In fact, a thermal balloon draws on a wide range of skills, from harness-work to welding, and an equally wide range of knowledge from trigonometry to aerostatics to navigation. No matter how much you already know, there will be skills to be acquired and tasks to be contracted out, and you had better be prepared to ruthlessly throw away your own first efforts and start over, because your life will depend on your unwillingness to compromise quality.

Yet even the majority who take things no further than buying the book will learn much that is helpful about the sport of thermal ballooning and about the critical design points of balloons and their support equipment. Balloons are not cheap – that’s the motive for considering building one yourself – and the ability to critically evaluate somebody else’s work could save hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars, and maybe a life or two.

“Balloon Books”

Build Your Own Balloon Vols I-III + Appendices

Copyright 1996 A.B.A.C.

Compiled by a member of the Association of Balloon and Airship Constructors (ABAC), a licensed balloon and airship pilot, rigger and constructor, these books assemble in one three-volume set the information essential to any amateur considering the construction of a hot-air balloon. They include detailed lists of materials, parts and suppliers. The Appendices contain a brief discussion of gas balloons.


Volume I – Design Criteria contains engineering and safety data. Includes international standards, a review of the state of the art and many time-saving ideas and techniques. (180 pages)

Volume II – Materials & Suppliers contains a comprehensive list of components, specifications and prices [note: prices will be out-of-date], plus information on how and where to order. (206 pages)

Volume III – Plans & Construction contains detailed production drawings, assembly instructions and pictures of most components. (175 pages)

Appendix I – Notes on ultralight hot-air balloon construction.

Appendix II – Notes on spherical gas balloon construction.
[Appendices are bound together in one thin volume, 64 pages]

A word of warning: these books are crudely produced. They are sold for their information content, not their beauty!


Order on-lineOrder on-line through Amazon/CreateSpace

Volume 1 ($30): https://www.createspace.com/5854671

Volume 2 ($30): https://www.createspace.com/5875635

Volume 3 ($30): https://www.createspace.com/6393966

Appendices ($20): https://www.createspace.com/6396032

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