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Inflating a hot air balloon

How Is A Hot Air Balloon made? A collaboration with Cameron Balloons

Have you ever wondered what goes into making a hot air balloon?

We recently had the opportunity to showcase exactly that with Cameron Balloons, one of the leading suppliers in hot air ballooning, who produced a behind the scenes film of their fascinating build process for one of our beautiful, big, red Virgin balloons.

From the fabric selection and construction of the envelope to customizing the design's intricate original artwork, we are thrilled to share insights on how these remarkable pieces of aviation engineering come together.

Just how is a hot air balloon made?

Check out our brand new video to find out and explore this fascinating world of what it takes to make each unique vessel soar.

Fly-through the factory with us where our balloons are made!

Have a look at this wonderful video put together by Grant Smith, otherwise known as GAS_FPV Drones as a fly-through of the entire manufacturing process, taking you step by step through every chapter of our beautiful big red balloon's new life.

Grant has really turned what is an extremely technical and difficult process into a gorgeous story of how to build a hot air balloon.

In the video you'll see a full view of the entire factory as we are flown through different departments and areas that make up the team of Cameron Balloons.

And as a Pro FPV Drone Pilot, Grant shows us some awesome shots in this film, including starting the film by flying all the way into an inflated balloon!

The drone goes around the balloon and demonstrates just how big these balloons are, as well as showcasing the latest in aerospace manufacturing!

GAS_FPV has shown that you can demonstrate a creative and inspired way of showing what is a very intricate and technical process and has brought this project to life!

Lets Start from the top! The Balloon Envelope!

Hot air balloon envelope

The process of building a hot air balloon requires a huge amount of patience and skill to get that special result of beautiful artistry.

The envelope is the part of the balloon that will contain the hot air which will provide the lift for flight.

Each Virgin balloon is made up of 34,000 square feet of tear-resistant material – that’s enough to cover 16 football pitches!

First, the technical and graphics teams design the envelope to be a safe aircraft and to look fantastic.

The balloon envelope must be able to handle the heat and pressure created, and these calculations and limitations are determined by the technical team at the beginning of the design process.

Following this, the cutting team rolls out thousands of feet of fabric to be cut into panels according to an established pattern.

Then, it is the turn of the sewing team, who sew the envelope together with extra-strong thread and reinforce areas that will be subject to heavy stress or wear.

To form an envelope, machinists must carefully stitch together panels of fabric into gores which are like segments of an orange, these gores are then connected to create a complete envelope.

The crown ring is also attached by the sewing team, it sits on the top of the balloon and connects to the load tapes keeping the structure secure and resilient to carry the basket load.

The most common fabric used to make hot air balloon envelopes is nylon since it is both lightweight and strong.

A robust yet lightweight fabric is essential for any successful flight; here at Virgin Balloon Flights, we use nylon as our material of choice.

The envelope fabric is one of the most impressive parts of a hot air balloon! The fabric has to be able to withstand a very large open flame but not catch fire!

The fabric has a special coating to minimise permeability and protect the fabric from UV and water exposure.

At the very top of the balloon envelope is the parachute, a circular fabric ‘plug’ that fills a circular hole at the top of the balloon.

This parachute is attached to the main envelope with very strong and detailed rigging.

Once the balloon is inflated, the parachute is held in place with the air pressure inside the envelope until the pilot pulls on the parachute control lines.

This action will release hot air to slow an ascent, or to start a descent.

There are also vents on the sides of the balloon called 'turning vents' which can be operated by the pilot using control lines.

These rotate the balloon but do not steer it. That is the job of the wind.

And when it's time to land, the pilot activates the parachute, bringing your voyage safely back down onto the ground!

Next up, the balloon basket!

The basket hangs from the bottom of the hot air balloon and is built from scratch using cane, wood, and metal.

The design of hot air balloon baskets hasn’t changed much over time, they are still made by expert weaving artisans here in the UK.

It's vital that the material is flexible and durable so it absorbs the impact of landing and can carry the weight of the passengers and equipment.

These woven wonders are finished by the basket team who upholster the basket top in beautiful leather and lace internal cushions against the walls to keep you comfortable and safe.

Don't forget the burners!

hot air balloon burners

The burners are possibly the most critical piece of equipment... without them, we wouldn't get anywhere!

The balloon is first inflated using fans that blow cold air into the envelope, this is followed by the burners heating this air, making it hotter than the air surrounding the balloon.

It is this process that makes the air inside the balloon lighter so it starts to rise!

It's basic physics!

The burners are fuelled with propane which is stored in cylinders inside the pilot’s compartment of the basket.

Even the balloons have a few tricky tests!

hot air balloon ride

While hot air balloons take a lot of engineering to build, they also require considerable testing to certify as airworthy.

The final part of the manufacturing process is the testing procedure. All Cameron Balloons aircraft are thoroughly inspected in the factory, and again in the field. This process ensures systematic quality control, the maintenance of high safety measures and offers a final check of the aesthetics before the balloons head off to one of our wonderful launch sites.

This is one of the most important steps because, without it, we wouldn't be able to fly with any of our wonderful passengers!

Special Shapes and other feats

special shapes hot air balloon

Cameron Balloons builds a variety of lighter-than-air aircraft including hopper balloons for solo pilots, sports balloons for leisure and competitions, airships and special shapes. They provide us with the entire package to take our passengers into the skies, including the envelopes, burners, baskets, and fuel systems.

The Special shape balloons are always crowd pleasers, and Cameron Balloons really know what they're talking about having made hundreds of complex special shape balloons. They have provided an impressive 75% of the special shaped balloons worldwide.

A few of our personal favourites of their creations we've seen over the years here at Virgin Balloon Flights are Dolly the sheep, The Balloon from UP, The Cadbury's Creme Egg, and Bertie Basset.

Build your own mini hot air balloon!

Have a look at this guide from Cameron Balloons on how to make your own hot air balloon using just paper, thread, and a ruler!

Make sure you have adult supervision when you are doing this hot air balloon project!

So next time you marvel at a hot air balloon gliding through the sky, now you know just how much work goes into making this dream come true!

Or, if you ever hear anyone asking how do you make a hot air balloon, now you can fill them in!

If you still have a few questions that need answering have a look at our FAQ's on everything to do with ballooning, our vouchers, and booking your flight!

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