What's a Barnes basket? Or what is a CNT? Or even a crown line? For most balloonists, these terms are taken for granted, but for the vast majority of people (and many new crew members), these and other ballooning terms are a mystery.
Like nearly anything in life, ballooning has a language of its own. "Piball," "tie-off," "zebra," and other terms spoken on the ballooning field may not be familiar to those new to the sport (or to some who've been around a while as well.) Fear not! To help you speak "balloonese" like a native, we've compiled a glossary of ballooning jargon.
When Eric Goodson originally created this Ballooning Glossary for his website Ballooning Online!, his goal was to build and present as near a complete list of ballooning terms and their meanings as possible. Eric's list has not been updated in over 10 years, but we liked the format and his sense of humor, and so we've decided to build on the foundation he started.
Just as Eric intended, we'll attempt to cross-reference similar terms, and provide useful examples. Where possible, diagrams and pictures will be made available. If you know of any ballooning terms that are not listed here, but you would like to make a contribution to the list, just send a note to the NBC Webmaster. We'll be happy to add your entry to the Glossary.
- '56', '77', '105', '180', etc. - Balloons are often refered to by their size, or capacity in cubic feet (ft3). Thus a balloon with an envelope capacity of 77,000 ft3 is often called a "77", and a "105" refers to a balloon with an envelope capacity of 105,000 ft3. Envelope capacity ranges from less than 30,000 ft3 (see cloudhopper) to over 300,000 ft3 for the largest ride balloons.
- Aerostat - a lighter-than-air craft object that can stay stationary in the air. Hot-air and gas balloons are aerostats, as are blimps and dirigibles. The word aerostat was originally French and is derived from the Greek aer (air) + statos (standing).
- Aerostation - The science of lighter-than-air flight aboard an aerostat.
- AGL - Height Above Ground Level. Compare to MSL.
- Altimeter - A device for determining altitude above a reference point. When set to the local barometric pressure in the Kollsman window, an aircraft pressure altimeter will register altitude above Mean Sea Level (MSL). The long hand indicates hundreds of feet, the shorter, diamond-shaped hand indicates thousands, and the thinest hand (with the triangular tip) is tens of thousands. Thus, the altimeter at right shows 1,400 feet.
- Ammonia (NH3) - Type of Charlière balloon that uses ammonia as its lifting agent instead of helium, hydrogen or coal gas. Became very popular in 1990's. Much less costly than flying other gas bags. Has approximately .5 lifting power of helium. Popularized by Tim Cole and Dennis Brown of Colorado (and NBC's own John Kugler). Ammonia gas is readily available in agricultural areas of the USA.
- AX - FAI designation for "free balloons which obtain their buoyancy solely as a result of heating air." Fifteen size categories are used, ranging from AX-1 (250 m3 or less) through AX-15 (over 22,000 m3).
- Calculated Rate Approach Task (CRAT) - Goals are set within scoring areas and each scoring area has a unique time of validity. Successful completion of this task relies on the pilot's accurate assessment of the wind speed. If the pilot does not launch at the correct time they may not reach the scoring area during its period of validity. Markers dropped inside the scoring area when it is closed do not score.
- Carabiner - A "D", or "O" shaped locking metal clamp used to connect things together
(in particular, load cables to baskets, or tie-off lines to chase vehicles).
- Charlière - A balloon using hydrogen (or helium or ammonia) as the lifting gas. Invented by Jacques Alexandre César Charles and first flown on December 1, 1783. Compare Montgolfiere and Roziere.
- Chase - also referred to as the "recovery." The process by which the aerostat
is tracked during flight and retrieved afterwards by crew on the ground or in another craft (such as a boat).
- Chase Crew - The crew that launches, chases, and retrieves the
aerostat. Most balloons use a crew of 3-4 persons to safely inflate and retrieve the aircraft. "To become one, ask one."
- Chunk-and-Dunk - A less-than-successful attempt at a splash-and-dash, resulting in substantial immersion of the basket and passengers.
- Cloudhopper - A one-person, basketless balloon in which the pilot wears a harness attached to the balloon with the fuel tank on their back (see photo at near right). A similar one- or two-person system in which the pilot sits in a seat is the Sky Chariot.
- Cluster Balloon - Invented in 1937 by Jean Piccard as the "Pleiades" (from the star constellation) and refined by his son Don Piccard (see his website), uses multiple, smaller gas balloons cells. Other proponents are John Ninomaya (seen in photo at far right) and Jonathan Trappe who fly under a cluster of latex weather balloons.
- Convergent Navigational Task (CNT) - A ballooning event where pilots attempt to fly from a launch point of their choosing a designated distance away to a single point, usually a scoring 'X' on the event field. Also known as Controlled Navigational Trajectory Event, or a Fly-In task.
- Coal Gas - Also called Lighting Gas (lg), is a gas mixture in different compositions such as hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide. It is produced in coking plants and gas plants. Employed extensively by 19th century balloonists, it is now primarily used as a base value for balloon records. Coal gas is flammable, explosive, poisonous, and not readily available in some parts of the world due to better manufacturing processes.
- Crew Chief - The pilot's right-hand, in charge of operations on the ground before, during, and after the flight. Usually, the most experienced member of the chase crew.
- Crown - the top of the balloon envelope.
- Crown Line - A rope which, at one end, is fastened to the top (or crown) of the balloon
envelope, and at the other end, is used by a member of the crew to help stabilize
the balloon during inflation and deflation. It is usually a good 50-100 feet (15-30 meters) longer than the balloon is tall. See diagram.
- Deflation Port - The opening at the crown of the balloon envelope, kept closed during
flight by the parachute valve. See diagram.
- Drop Line - A rope, webbing belt or other line attached to the aerostat (usually the gondola) on one end. Normally furled or stowed during flight, it can be released by the pilot and secured by ground crewmembers who use it to maneuver the craft into or through tight areas.
- Elbow - This task involves changing course as much as possible. Balloons fly out for a specified minimum distance, for example three miles, the pilot drops a marker to indicate their position and then flies the second leg, attempting to change course as much as possible before dropping the final marker.
- Envelope - The portion of the balloon which holds the heated air (for hot-air balloons)
or gas for gas balloons. Constructed of cloth such as ripstop nylon or polyester, Nomex, or other light, relatively impermeable material. See diagram.
- Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) - is the world air sports federation, founded in 1905. It is a non-governmental and non-profit international organization whose aim is furthering aeronautical and astronautical activities worldwide. The FAI ratifies aeronautical world records. (See the FAI website.)
- First Flight Ceremony - Those who have endured it need no explanation.
Those who have not should know that its origins are cloaked in mystery and shrouded in the Most Sacred Rites of Ballooning.
Suffice it to say that the ceremony involves the Balloonist's Prayer, various liquid refreshments
(usually champagne), something to kneel on (usually crew gloves), some physical dexterity on the part of the subject,
and an object made of absorbant material. Once having successfully survived the ceremony, the Initiate has been officially
inducted into the Noble Fraternity of Aeronauts. It should also be noted that, if your first ride was free,
your second will likely cost $30,000 (the cost to buy your own balloon).
- Fly-in Task - see CNT.
- Fly-on Task - Usually combined with another task, the pilot chooses a second goal in flight and notes its grid reference on the marker to bedroped on the first target. They then fly on to this predetermined point and drop a second marker to score.
- Gondola - see basket.
- Gordon Bennett Memorial - A target is identified for this task which is outside of a scoring area. The pilot has to drop the marker as near as possible to the goal but inside the scoring area. Markers dropping outside the scoring area, even if closest to the target, do not score.
- Gore - Section of balloon fabric extending from mouth to crown, filling in between load tapes. Each gore is composed of multiple individual panels. See diagram.
- Gravity Drop - A method of releasing a marker baggie over the target in which the hand holding the baggie's tail must remain completely inside the basket. In the photo at right, this marker would be disqualified as the pilot's hand extends beyond the basket rail.
- Hare-and-Hounds - A ballooning event in which one pilot (the "hare") launches first, followed by the remaining pilots (the "hounds"). The hounds cannot begin inflation until the hare lifts off, then will navigate to follow the hare's path, attempting to drop a marker baggie where the hare lands. The hare tries to outwit the hounds with altitude changes that take them in various directions.
- Heat Cable - also called "heat tape." Used to raise the temperature of cold propane tanks, thereby increasing the vapor pressure within the tank to a desirable 80 - 120 psi. The amount of heating may be controlled by thermostat or by using a timer to apply heat for a set duration. Padded tank covers provide insulation to retain heat throughout the flight.
Compare nitrogen pressurization.
- Helium - Inert, lighter-than-air gas, used primarily in the United States due to the high cost of transport elsewhere. Helium is the second-most common element in the universe, but rare on Earth. Until recently, nearly all the world's supply was obtained as a by-product from natural gas wells in the southwestern US. The cost for a helium fill of a Charlière balloon now exceeds $10,000.
- Hesitation Waltz - Similar to the judge-declared goal except that there are two or more targets. The pilot only has to fly to one target and can choose which one while in flight.
- Hopper - see Cloudhopper.
- Hydrogen - Lightest of all gases, hydrogen is also highly flammable. Historically most prevalent among European gas balloonists (owing to being one-third or less the cost of helium), hydrogen is becoming more widespread among US balloonists.
- Inflation - Conducted in two stages: Cold Inflation, partially filling the balloon envelope with air from a powered fan, and Hot Inflation, heating the air in balloon envelope by using a burner.
Remember, we "inflate" a balloon; the Hindenburg was "blown up."
- JDG - see judge declared goal
- Judge Declared Goal - a ballooning event where pilots use the available winds in an attempt to fly from a common launch point to a distant target(s), pre-selected by the event organizers. The target is often a remote cross-roads or junction.
- Key Grab - A variety of CNT in which the target is a tall (20') pole topped with an envelope containing a prize of cash or keys to a new vehicle. Pilots must navigate within reach of the envelope, and may not use hooks, nets, or other devices to seize the prize.
- Knot - (abbreviated kt) a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour (eqivalent to 1.15078 miles per hour). Wind speeds, especially from aviation sources, are often given in knots. Ten knots of wind speed equals 11.5 miles per hour.
- Kollsman Window - named for Paul Kollsman, inventor of the barometric altimeter, this displays the reference barometric pressure reading to which the altimeter has been set. In the photo of the altimeter above, the Kollsman Window has been set to 29.90 inches of mercury.
- Landowner - The person, business or organization which holds the title to the property upon which the aerostat launches and/or lands.
- Landowner Relations
- Extremely important for aerostat activities, especially considering the limited control over landing location. Ideally, the pilot or chase
crew should secure permission from the landowner before landing on their property. The wishes of the landowner take precedence during landing and recovery, within the limits of flight physics and safety. Landowner relations also apply to low overflights of landowner's property.
- Load Tapes - reinforced vertical seams along the length of the envelope, connected by the load cables to
the basket. The actual load-bearing parts of the envelope. See diagram.
- Long Jump - Annual BFA-sanctioned competition to fly the farthest distance in one flight, carrying no more than 170 pounds (40 gallons) of propane. Contest period runs during the coolest months from November through March.
- Maximum distance - For this task, pilots fly as far as they can within a defined scoring area and sometimes within a certain time period. Pilots who do not drop their marker within the scoring area do not achieve a result.
- Minimum distance - This task involves the competitors flying the minimum distance possible. Pilots must not drop their markers until after a given time period. A target laid out on the launch field is the goal.
- Montgolfière - the name that Joseph and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier gave to the type of balloon that they created and flew in France beginning in 1783. It was filled with air that was heated to produce buoyancy and was usually made with a silk and paper fabric. The ability of the Montgolfière to stay aloft depended greatly on the temperature of the air within the balloon, which reduced its usefulness for other than recreational purposes. Compare Roziere and Charlière.
- Mouth - The opening at the base of the balloon envelope through which the flames
from the burner passes to heat the air inside the envelope. This is sometimes referred to as the "throat."
- MSL - Altitude above Mean Sea Level. Determined by setting the altimeter to the local barometric pressure. Compare with AGL.
- NBC - The Nebraska Balloon Club, founded in 1977 (see Ballooning History).
- Nomex - Fire-resistant material often used in the scoop, skirt, and bottom section of the envelope.
- Nitrogen - added under pressure (usually 120-150 psi) to cold propane tanks to force the liquid propane through fuel lines. Compare to heat cable.
- Nylon - DuPont 6,6 fiber is woven in a rip-stop pattern, then coated with silicone or polyurethane to seal the fabric.
- O-ring - rubber seals within the burner valves that ensure a tight seal between moving parts.
- Panels - Fabric (usually coated ripstop nylon or polyester) sections, which are sewn together top to bottom, and attached on each vertical side to load tapes to form a gore. See diagram. If an individual panel suffers damage, it can be unstitched and replaced by the balloon's manufacturer or by a certified balloon repair station.
- Parachute Valve - A reclosable, self-sealing vent at the top of the balloon envelope. Invented by Tracy Barnes, the parachute valve has two main functions: First, during flight, the pilot may partially open the valve to release a small amount of hot air, thus reducing the buoyancy of the balloon to halt an ascent or initiate a descent. Second, at the end of the flight, the valve is opened fully to deflate the envelope. Opening the valve is accomplished by pulling on the attached vent line; when the vent line is released, the force of the rising air within the envelope lifts the parachute valve back into the closed position.
- Piball - (Pilot Balloon) The meterological instrument used to determine upper level wind directions and speeds. A small, 9 - 12" diameter helium-filled balloon is released, then tracked using an instrument called a theodolite. The readings taken from this instrument as it tracks the balloon, up to 10,000 ft, can be used to calculate the wind speeds, directions, and the presence of inversions in the upper levels.
- Pilot-declared goal - The pilot selects the target instead of the competition director. (Compare with JDG.) Targets have to be chosen within certain distance limits from the launch site. The pilot must declare the goal before launching and will not know what targets other pilots have chosen.
- Polyester - Fabric used almost exclusively by Firefly Balloons, its purported advantages over nylon are greater UV resistance, higher temperature limits, and greater resistance to mildew.
- Prohibited Zone
- A restricted operation zone where balloon launchings and landings are prohibited by the landowner. In some cases, a minimum
altitude restriction may also exist. See the NBC redzone map.
- PZ - see prohibited zone.
- Propane - also known as LPG (liquid petroleum gas), propane is heavier than air, boils at -44°F, and on
an average day (60 - 80°F) will produce enough pressure in the fuel system (100 to 150 psi) to move liquid propane through the fuel lines without need of a pump. Flying at colder temperatures requires supplemental pressurization, either by charging tanks with nitrogen or by pre-heating the tanks and fuel.
- Pyronaut - Title of one of the NBC's better-known awards, given annually to one who has violated the integrity of the balloon's envelope in an incendiary fashion. "There are those who have, and those who will."
- Quick Release - A means of connecting a safety line or drop line to the gondola so that it may be quickly and safely detached. See also three-ring circus.
- Red Line - see vent line.
- Red Zone
- see prohibited zone.
- Restricted Operations Zone - A land area on or over which balloon operations are restricted
by the landowner. Also refered to as a prohibited zone (PZ) or a sensitive zone (SZ). See the NBC redzone map.
- Ride Balloon - Larger than their sport balloon brethern, ride balloons generally range from 5-passenger, 105,000 ft3 envelopes up to monsterous 18-passenger, 310,000 ft3 envelopes. The baskets of these large balloons may be up to 5 feet wide by 12 feet long, are often divided into multiple compartments to separate pilots from passengers and to restrict passenger movement, and may sport 2, 3 or even 4 burners.
- Roziere - Type of balloon that uses both helium gas and hot air, sometimes called a hybrid. Invented by Pilâtre de Rozier, one of the first two aeronauts to fly in the first Montgolfière. de Rozier attempted, unsuccessfully, to cross the English Channel from France to England on June 15, 1785 in a balloon that combined flammable hydrogen and hot air. Modern Roziere balloons use non-flammable helium, to great success. Roziere balloons were used in the successful round-the-world balloon flights of Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard in Breitling Orbiter 3 in 1999 and Steve Fossett's 2002 solo flight Spirit of Freedom. Compare Charlière and Montgolfière.
- A specialized-shape skirt which narrows to an inch or two on one side and widens to extend all the way from
the top of the stanchions to the base of the envelope proper, forming a tilted mouth.
The idea of the scoop is to provide better control of the aerostat's
orientation. Ideally, the front (or main part of the scoop) will always be kept in the direction of travel.
It may also aid in keeping the envelope full.
- Sensitive Zone
- a restricted operation zone where balloon launchings and landings may be allowed by the
landowner under special circumstances. In some cases, a minimum altitude restriction may also exist. See the NBC redzone map.
- the cloth segment of the envelope below the load cable connections, frequently detachable, often made of Nomex or similar fire-resistant material. See diagram.
- Sky Chariot - A one- or two- person, basketless balloon, in which the pilot (and passenger) sit in an open seat attached beneath the envelope. See SkyChariot.com, also Cloudhopper.
- Splash-and-Dash - A demonstration of skill among practitioners of the Art of Aerostation, in which the gondola is caused to lightly graze the surface of a body of water. This maneuver serves a useful purpose by developing pilot skills in prescisely arresting descent and holding altitiude. The unsuccesful execution of a splash-and-dash ("chunk-and-dunk") may earn an NBC pilot the Club's coveted "Aquanaut" award.
- Sport Balloon - Flown for fun with 1, 2 or 3 passengers, or in competition where their smaller size means a faster response, sport balloon envelopes range in size from about 50,000 up to 90,000 cubic feet. Compare with cloudhoppers and ride balloons.
- Squeeze-EZ - A labor-saving device which aids in "streamering" the envelope during pack-up. Also referred to as a "squeezer".
- Stanchions - The stabilizing struts between the basket,
the burner mount and the load cables. On some balloons the stanchions are actually load-bearing elements;
on others they simply act as stiff or slightly flexible guides for the actual load-bearing elements and provide connections from
envelope sensors to the instrument console. Also referred to as "uprights," "burner supports," or more generically, "supports." See diagram.
- Supports - see stanchions.
- SZ - see sensitive zone.
- Target - see "X"
- Three-ring Circus- No clowns or wild animals here (pilot and crew excepted). A type of quick release using overlapping rings or loops of rope to provide leverage in securing an attached line. Pulling the release cable running through the last loop allows the overlapped rings to separate easily, even under tension.
- Throat - See mouth.
- Thumbs Up - The signal from a launch director that the airspace above is clear and you have permission to launch.
Any digit other than the thumb means something entirely different.
- Tie-off - A safety line connecting the balloon gondola to a ground anchor (usually the chase vehicle), used to secure the balloon against inadvertent launching due to unexpected wind gusts. The attachment to the gondola is provided through a quick-release or three-ring circus.
- Turning Vent - Some balloons envelopes incorporate one or two reclosable side vent panels which, when opened, allow the balloon to be rotated while in flight. These can be used to align the basket for landing, or to assist in display of advertising banners or other artwork. See diagram. Illustration courtesy Cameron Balloons.
- Variometer - Also called the "vario," "rate-of-climb indicator" or VSI ("vertical speed indicator"). An instrument that uses changing air pressure to determine the rate of climb or descent. In the image at right, the variometer indicates a 400 foot-per-minute descent.
- Vent Line - Also called the "red line" or "valve line," this line controls the operation of the deflation port or parachute valve to release a controlled amount of hot air from the top of the envelope. See diagram. Some balloon envelopes may also have one or more turning vents, each with its own vent actuating line.
- VFR - see Visual Flight Rules
- Visual Flight Rules - Federal Aviation Regulations governing flight operations with visual reference to the ground, and specifying minimum visibility and separation from clouds.
- Watership Down - A combination of fly-in and hare-and-hounds tasks. The pilots have to launch from a location remote to the event field. The idea is to time a fly-in to the event field such that a hare balloon launching from the event field at a pre-set time is then followed in a conventional Hare-and-Hounds task.
- Weather Dog - A reliable indicator of current weather conditions. If the Weather Dog (WD) is wet, it's raining. If the WD is hot, it's sunny. If you can't see the WD, it's foggy (or night). If the WD's fur is blowing, it's windy. (Credit Bill Griffin in countless weather briefings at Creston.)
- Weather Rock - Any smooth stone thrown at the weatherman who briefed you on VFR and sent you three miles out to find a launch site into pea-soup fog.
- Weigh-off - A request by the pilot to have all persons except the crew chief stop adding their weight to the basket, in order to determine whether the balloon is buoyant. This does not mean "hands-off," as the basket may still need to be restricted from moving horizontally until launch clearance is received from the launch director.
- "X" - as in "THE X" (or sometimes "WHERE the %@#& is the X??") The objective of a controlled navigation task is a target in the form of an "X" with each leg measuring 25 feet in length. (See photo at Gravity Drop.) Scoring of baggies is from the center of the X. In some competition events, the top 5 places may all be within inches of the center.
- Zebra - A mild mannered, even-tempered person, wearing a black and white striped shirt while he/she merrily scores your
baggie (Scoring Judge) or launches your balloon into clear airspace (Launch Director).
- Zero-zero - Placing one's baggie directly on the center of the target, resulting in a measurement of zero feet, zero inches
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