How Do Hot Air Balloons Work?

You’ve probably seen pictures or videos of hot air balloons flying through scenic landscapes or taking part in hot air balloon festivals. But, have you ever stopped and thought about how those balloons are flying? There’s clearly a balloon, a basket, and fire. But, how do hot air balloons work? In this article, we’ll briefly explain how the different parts of a hot air balloon work together to make the balloon fly.

How Does a Hot Air Balloon Work?

Hot air balloons work based on the scientific principle that hot air rises in the cooler air surrounding it. To understand how hot air balloons use this principle to fly, let’s look at the three main parts of a hot air balloon and the functions they perform:


  • Basket – The basket—also known as the gondola—is the part of a hot air balloon that carries passengers and the pilot. The baskets are normally made out of wicker and hold the fuel used to heat the inside of the balloon.


  • Envelope – The envelope is the actual balloon part of a hot air balloon. It is usually colorful and has a unique design on it that assists in making balloons so beautiful when they fly. The balloon envelope is made out of specialized material and has an opening at the bottom that allows heat into it. The heat is then trapped inside the envelope and, consequently, raises the balloon up higher.


  • Burners – The burners are the part of the balloon that makes the entire hot air balloon work—they provide the heat. The burners are cylinders that are placed below the bottom opening of the balloon envelope and burn gas to heat the inside of the balloon. The most common hot air balloon gas used is propane. The lightweight propane tanks are stored in the basket.


There is no real steering mechanism for hot air balloons. Instead, the pilot adjusts the amount of gas to either go higher or lower, but where the balloon goes depends on the wind conditions. The pilot can also open the parachute valve at the very top of the balloon to let hot air out. This results in the balloon descending and is how hot air balloons land.

One of the best ways to learn even more about hot air ballooning is to visit the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Museum has a variety of exhibitions detailing the history of lighter-than-air flight, aircrafts, and artifacts from important events.


The Balloon Museum Foundation proudly raises awareness, involvement, and funds for the Balloon Museum. Our goal is to uplift the Museum through project collaboration, artifact donations, and shared information and resources. The Balloon Museum Foundation also holds special events during The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each year, which is the world’s largest balloon festival and lasts nine days at the beginning of October. Find out more about the Fiesta and how you can support our efforts by becoming a member, donating, volunteering, or purchasing a wall tile today!