Is there any sight as mesmerising and spectacular as a jaunty, bright hot air balloon bobbing its way sedately across the exquisite African skyline? We at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris vote it the most uplifting thing you will ever see! It takes some very special craftsmanship to ensure each balloon is not only beautiful, but practical, safe and durable for a lifetime of service, and today we are celebrating the fine art involved in getting your picture-perfect ride in the sky ready for its flight career.

Two halves of a perfect whole

We all know there’s two parts to every balloon- the sturdy ‘gondola’ [or basket] and the ‘envelope’ [the big balloon].  If you’re a touch of a balloon connoisseur, you’ll know the classic ‘balloon’ shape is far from the only envelope style possible. Anything from cartoon heads to castles, dinosaurs and so much more can still carry eager Aeronaughts aloft. So how does the magic work? The very first balloon, launched by brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier in 1783, was a flimsy concoction of burlap and paper. While it sure got the job done, you’ll be glad to know the modern balloon is quite a different creature!
The gondola is home to the hydrocarbon gas burner and gas bottles, which don’t look all that different then [although much more powerful] the bottles that get your gas braai revved up. A complex web of cords and load tapes secure the balloon to the basket and ensure your pilot can steer the flight. Despite their quaint, welcoming looks, the basket can hold up to a ton and must be sturdy enough for a bouncy landing, so the materials have to be both light and durable. Cane is typically used, bringing flexibility and strength without piling on too much unneeded weight. We use ‘T-partition’ baskets, where the pilot has their own ‘cubby’, which provides the whole rig great balance in the air.

What fabric is used in ballooning?

The balloon itself is typically made from rip-stop nylon. Commonly used in ballistic jackets, military uniforms and motorcycle gear, it’s one of the strongest yet lightest materials available to man, so while polyester and other fabrics can also be found in some intricate custom balloons, rip-stop is the material of choice. Nomex, a fire resistant material that’s also light and tough, is used on the lower portion of the balloon to ensure the burner doesn’t affect or deform the envelope over its long service career. The balloon may look sweet, but they are beasts when it comes to withstanding atmospheric pressure and even the odd strike from a misguided bird.

The next time you book an experience with Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris, be sure to take a moment to look up in-flight and admire the towering, intricate, beautiful yet sturdy envelope that’s so intrinsic to the experience unfolding around you.