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How to Construct a Small-Scale Hot Air Balloon


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Hot Air Balloons
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If used carelessly, this balloon presents a serious fire hazard to surrounding buildings and vegetation. Proceed only at your own risk. I am not responsible for any damage inflicted by the use of this design.

Way back when I was growing up in Montana, I learned from a friend how to build small-scale hot air balloons. It was great fun to float one up at night with people nearby, and watch their astonished reactions as they speculated as to the origin of this strange glowing object. I improved on the design somewhat over the years, and I still have fun sending them up every once in a while. Here's what you'll need.


1 short dry-cleaning bag (the kind your suit comes back in)
16 birthday-cake candles
2 9" strips of thin balsa (usually found in 18" strips

1. Make the frame by attaching the strips of balsa together in a cross shape. I sometimes use thread to lash the balsa together, then drip a bit of wax on the thread to keep it from unraveling. Another option is to simply glue the strips together. Do whatever is easiest and lightest.

2. Attach candles to the  frame. To attach the candles, I just heat the bottom over a flame for a split second (just long enough for the wax to get soft, but not liquefy) then press it immediately onto the frame, and hold it for a couple of seconds. Be careful not to heat the candle too long, or it will not attach well. There should be 4 candles on each leg of the frame, for a total of 16 candles. The spacing of the candles is not critical, just don't get them any closer than two to three inches from the end, or you will run the risk of burning your bag. For best performance, I sometimes cut the candles in half before attaching them. Although this reduces the burning time to about 10 min., it reduces the weight of the balloon considerably, and ensures good performance.

3. Attach the bag to the frame. This is the tricky part, and it is good to have a helper who can hold the bag while you tape the corners. Otherwise, it's very easy to knock the candles off the frame.

4. Float it! Wait for a cool,  breezeless night. If there is any wind at all, your balloon will meet a fate like the Hindenberg's. Make sure that you are in a wide open area with no surrounding trees or buildings. Once the balloon gains altitude, you wont have any problem, but during the first part of the flight, the balloon can be a serious fire hazard.


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