You’ve seen these brightly colored aircraft floating by in the sky overhead. But did you know that the modern hot air balloon system was invented in Sioux Falls in 1960? Visit our newest exhibit, Fired Up: 50 Years of Hot Air and learn about everything from the hot air balloon’s smoky origins in France in the late 1700s to its reinvention into a modern aircraft. See how regional scientists engineered new techniques and systems to soar into the clouds. Explore baskets and burners, races and world records in this exhibit that has something for the whole family.
The place? France. The year? 1782. Who? Two brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, who worked in a paper manufacturing company. The men noticed that when they threw scraps of paper into the fire, the smoke would lift them and carry them out through the chimney. With an interest in making things fly, the brothers set out to perform a series of experiments, determined to make something lighter than air.
The Montgolfier brothers launch their balloon from the Palace of Versailles September 19, 1783, with animals in the basket. Image courtesy A2ZCDs.
The first balloon created by the newly-formed Raven Industries team was a white envelope made of nylon laminated to Mylar, a strong but thin polyester film that kept air from leaking. The gondola was a one-person seat that resembled a folding lawn chair. For fuel, the team at Raven Industries rigged up a system that used commercial propane tanks connected to an uncoiled burner.
The X-38 balloon, the second hot-air balloon built by Raven Industries.
Image courtesy Rekwin Archive 61-E-1061-12
In November of 1961, Raven Industries sold their first sport, or recreational, hot air balloon to Dr. William McGrath, Dean of Students at the University of Southern California. Known as the “Vulcoon,” it was named from a combination of Vulcan, the mythical god of fire, and balloon. The balloon was based on the X-40 model balloon, the very first balloon Raven flew. Only one was sold the following year, and six were sold in 1963. In 1966, Raven Industries purchased land near the Sioux Falls airport and built a 30,000 square foot facility to use for producing scientific and hot-air balloons. Learn more about how the Sioux Falls hot air balloon pioneers’ companies, Raven Industries, and later Aerostar International, flew to new heights in this exhibit!
Raven and Aerostar not only made recreational hot air balloons, but also conducted research in science and stratospheric exploration. This instrument section of a spy camera was sent via scientific (gas) balloon from Europe to the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Known as Project 119-L or Genetrix, the plan to use balloons for spying was approved by President Eisenhower after he saw the quality of the photos that could be obtained.
Since 1984 Raven Industries, and later Aerostar International, have designed, tested, and built gas-filled inflatables for military and commercial use. The most famous of their inflatables are seen each year in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, held in New York City.
Since the invention of the modern hot air balloon, balloonists have used many types of gondolas and baskets to carry passengers and cargo. These images and artifacts show many of the different styles developed here in Sioux Falls. The earliest hot air ballooning pioneers used a wicker basket to send up a rooster, a sheep, and a duck. Many materials have been tried and discarded since then, yet the properties of wicker continue to stand the test of time. Check out some of these basket types and even climb aboard a wicker basket for yourself
The burner is the engine of a hot air balloon. It burns fuel to create the hot air used to lift the balloon into the sky. It burns propane, which starts in a liquid form in the tanks below. After the pilot light is lit and the metal coils begin to heat up, the propane is heated in the coils and becomes a gas. When the propane is burned as a gas, it creates a more powerful flame and is more efficient at flying the balloon. The amount of heat a burner puts out is measured in BTU’s, or British Thermal Units.
Being the birthplace of hot air ballooning, Sioux Falls fills the skies with many pilots and enthusiasts. Download this image to keep an eye on the skies and know who is flying overhead!
A hot air balloon is a federal aircraft, and there is much that the pilot must do before a flight. This is something that he/she can’t do alone, and why the crew of a hot air balloon is essential to getting the aircraft airborne!