Watching Napa Valley hot air balloons as they float across the sky can be mesmerizing, and today they are becoming more interesting and complex. From Darth Vader’s head to castles, hot air balloons can take many forms. We usually don’t put much thought into how they are made and what keeps them afloat, but the science and materials behind making a hot air balloon can be equally fascinating.

While checking out hot air balloon Napa Valley you’ll marvel at the construction and size of the balloons, requiring several people to get one inflated. Today’s hot air balloons are made of two distinct parts: the basket (or gondola), and envelope (or gas bag). Attached to the basket is the hydrocarbon gas burner. The balloon requires either cords or load tapes to keep the envelope balanced while in flight.

The envelope is usually made from rip-stop nylon to help prevent tears from getting too big. Envelopes may also be made from polyester and other fabrics. The lower portion of the balloon is made from materials such as Nomex, a fire resistant material. This prevents the burner from igniting the balloon. These materials are crucial in maintaining a safe and smooth ride.

Generally, the basket, as you can see at hot air balloon Napa Valley, is square and made of Kooboo and Palambang cane. Baskets can be small, holding 2-3 people or quite large, accommodating up to 20 people at once. The Kooboo and Palambang cane is used for its flexibility and sturdiness without adding excess weight. There are two types of baskets, the Open and the T-partition. The T-partition keeps riders separated from the pilot and better distributes the weight of passengers more evenly.

Materials for both the envelope and the basket have been carefully chosen for long-term strength and durability. The basket is repeatedly subjected to hitting the ground hard, so the wicker material has to be able to withstand this battering over time. The envelope must be able to withstand the atmospheric pressure and stand up to external forces, such as a wayward bird, that may run into the balloon. Such occurrences, however, are rare.

Hot air balloons have come a long way since the first public demonstration in 1783. Brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier successfully launched a burlap balloon lined with paper in Annonay, France. In the United States alone there are more than 3500 balloons that take to the skies.