One of the most common questions which people on our hot air balloon experiences ask is: “How does it all work then?”

Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to quickly explain the basic science behind hot air ballooning and provide you with a few facts that will enable you to appreciate your next trip among the clouds even more.

Hot air

As you will most certainly know, hot air rises. The reason why the upstairs of your home is warmer in the winter is because the hot air from your downstairs radiators eventually rises and provides additional warmth to your upstairs rooms. So, by heating the air inside a balloon with a burner, it becomes lighter than the cooler air on the outside and eventually starts to float upwards. Naturally, a balloon will descend when the air inside it is allowed to cool.

Controlling a hot air balloon

Pilots don’t just have a great deal of control over the altitude of their balloon; they can also accurately monitor their height with a range of various instruments. In addition, experienced pilots (such as ours here at Virgin Balloon Flights) have impressive anticipation skills which they can use to control a balloon’s decent to within a matter of centimetres.


Unlike most other forms of aerial transportation, hot air balloons cannot be steered (not in the normal sense of the word anyway). Indeed, balloons travel in the direction of the wind. Of course, wind varies at different altitudes so pilots effectively ‘steer’ by using their skill and judgement to ascend and descend into airstreams that are ‘going their way’. In addition, pilots can use turning vents in the side of a balloon to rotate it 360 degrees so that you can enjoy a full panoramic view (and also make the broad side of the basket come in first when the time comes to land).


Many people are surprised to learn that balloons don’t land in pre-determined locations. Because they cannot be steered with 100% certainty, pilots bring a balloon into land when they see a suitable open space, preferably out in the quiet of the countryside.

Before landing, the pilot will ask all passengers in the basket to crouch down in the seated landing position (knees bent, back facing in the direction of travel and holding onto the ropes provided). As the balloon comes into land, the pilot will release the vent at the top of the balloon to let the hot air escape.

There are times when a basket can occasionally tip up, skid or bump when it touches down. This is quite normal as modern balloon baskets are designed to deal with all situations. Indeed, a little bit of excitement is the perfect way to round off a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so of unbroken peace and quite up in the clouds!

So, now you know the science behind it, you will be able to enjoy your next hot air balloon experience that much more!