About Hot Air Balloons
Modern hot air balloons are
made from about a thousand
yards of ripstop nylon or
polyester and sewn together
with miles of seams. The
baskets are woven with wicker
and most have a plywood floor.
Wicker is favored because it is
light, strong, and flexible. A
typical hot air balloon is 55 to
60 feet in diameter, stands
70 feet tall and carries 3 to 5 people; but they come in all sizes from (relatively) tiny solo balloons to large models able to carry 22 passengers in a multi-compartment basket.
Because balloons fly with the wind they need gentle winds to have a gentle flight. In most areas winds must be 8 knots or less to launch balloons. If it's a beautiful day for flying a kite, it's probably too windy for a balloon. Pilots also avoid any severe weather (such as thunderstorms).
Balloons launch at sunrise and a few hours before sunset. While this allows spectacular photos, the real reason is that winds are calmest at the beginning and the end of the day. Thermal activity and related winds prevent balloons from flying midday. Although it requires getting up extra early, sunrise flights are usually best.
While there's no steering wheel, a pilot can change direction by ascending or descending into a wind going in a new direction. The air above us moves in different directions at different altitudes, allowing a balloon to shift directions by changing altitude.
You never know where you're going until you get there. That's part of the charm of ballooning, a balloon goes wherever the winds take it.