2019 Thurston Classic

June 13-16

More information coming soon!

FAQs of the Thurston Classic

    What are balloons made of?

  • The balloon bag, or envelope, is made of reinforced nylon fabric. It's very light (1.3. to 2.3 ounces per square yard), but very strong (25 to 100 pounds per square inch). Some envelopes are treated with a polyurethane coating to make them more airtight and to help the fabric withstand the ultraviolet rays that are emitted by the sun. The basket, or gondola, is made of woven wicker which is both strong and flexible. It is connected to the envelope by stainless steel or kevlar suspension cables.
  • How do balloons work?

  • Hot air rises. The envelope traps a large bubble of hot air. If the air in the envelope is heated by a burner, the balloon will rise. If the air in the envelope is allowed to cool, or if the hot air is vented from the top or side of the envelope, the balloon will descend. An altimeter is used to measure altitude and rate-of-climb. The altimeter and an envelope temperature gauge are the only instruments used in the balloon.
  • How big are balloons?

  • The most popular sport balloon is approximately 55 feet in diameter and 70 feet high - about the the same height as a seven-story building. The balloon has 1,750 square yards of nylon fabric in its envelope - about one-fifth of an acre in surface area, more than three miles of thread, and almost one-half of a mile of nylon webbing used for reinforcing. Its 77,550 cubic feet air capacity displaces almost 3 tons of air. A sport balloon can carry three or four people.
  • How are balloons inflated?

  • The balloon envelope is spread on the ground and the gondola laid on its side to be attached to the envelope cables. A portable fan pushes cold air into the envelope. When the envelope is about half inflated with outside air, a propane burner is ignited until the air inside the envelope is heated enough for the balloon to rise to an upright position. With a small amount of additional heat, the balloon becomes buoyant. Inflation takes about 20 minutes to complete.
  • How many people does it take to fly a balloon?

  • To launch and fly a balloon safely requires a minimum crew of three people plus the pilot. Crew duties typically include preparing for the launch, following (or chasing) the balloon flight in the chase vehicle, obtaining permission from the landowner for the balloon landing and retrieval, keeping spectators out of the landing area, and ensuring that the landing area is left as it is found and that nothing is damaged.
  • How much do balloon systems weigh?

  • A typical balloon system - envelope, gondola, fuel tanks, with 30 to 40 gallons of fuel - will weigh about 500 pounds when it is deflated and on the ground. In the air, the complete system, including the air inside the envelope, will weigh about 2 1/2 tons.
  • What kind of fuel do balloons use?

  • Common liquid propane gas is used to heat a hot air balloon. Some balloons carry 40 gallons of propane in two 20 gallon stainless steel tanks, while others carry three - 10 gallon tanks. Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but is highly volatile. It is carried in liquid form, under pressure in the tanks and supplied to the burners through flexible hoses. The burner flame may shoot out 6 to 8 feet in a blast which the pilot controls. A typical flight lasting 90 minutes, with three people aloft, will consume about 22 gallons of propane. Some balloons have two independent burner fuel systems for added safety.
  • How high do balloons go?

  • Flights in hot air balloons have been recorded at more that 50,000 feet. However, the sport of ballooning is most enjoyable when flying at 200 to 500 feet, just above the tree tops. When balloons fly over populated areas, they maintain an altitude of at least 1,000 feet.
  • How long can a balloon stay afloat?

  • Most balloons can fly for one to two hours, depending on the outside temperature and the weight carried. On a cold day, with only one person flying, a three to four hour flight would be possible.
  • How do pilots steer the balloons?

  • They really don't. A balloon drifts in the same direction and at the same speed as the wind. The skill is for the pilot to pick the altitude that has the most desired wind direction. Surface winds and currents sometimes blow in a very different direction from the winds aloft. Altitude control is achieved with the burner. Longer burns achieve lift; shorter burns or none at all allow the air inside the envelope to cool as the balloon descends.
  • Where do balloons land?

  • Since a balloon travels with the wind, it is not possible to determine an exact landing site prior to launch. However, a pilot is able to determine the general direction of the flight through the study of wind currents.
  • Can a pilot land a balloon in water?

  • Yes. The fuel tanks are buoyant and will keep the balloon afloat. As long as the balloon is kept inflated, the pilot can take off again. A favorite trick of some balloonists is to perform a "splash and dash" touch down on water and then ascend.
  • How do you get home?

  • After the balloon is launched, the crew follows in the chase vehicle. Using maps of the area, radios, and visual contact, the crew tries to be close when the balloon lands. The crew helps the pilot deflate the balloon, disassemble and pack it up, as well as return passengers and equipment home.
  • When is the best time to fly?

  • Weather conditions for ballooning are best just after sunrise and two to three hours before sunset. Light, ideal winds of zero to 8 miles per hour often occur at these times. During the day, when the sun is high, thermals (large bubbles of hot air that rise from the sun-heated earth) make ballooning hazardous, because they are unpredictable.
  • How much does a balloon cost?

  • The average balloon costs from $20,000 to more than $40,000. This price includes the envelope, gondola, fuel tanks and instruments, but does not include any ground support equipment.
  • Can anyone pilot a balloon?

  • Balloon pilots must have an aircraft pilot's license especially for ballooning that is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is earned after taking hours of instruction from a balloon pilot instructor, passing a FAA written test, making a solo flight and passing a flight test with an FAA examiner.