Hot Air Balloon Festival


The annual International Hot-Air Balloon Festival takes place at the end of February in Château-d'Oex, a French-speaking village between Gstaad and Lausanne in Switzerland. The festival, which lasts around a week, took place for the 31st time in 2009 and has long become a permanent fixture on the regional event calendar, attracting around 130 balloonists from some 20 counties with around 90 hot-air balloons in various shapes. The ideal microclimate has made Château-dOex the Alpine ballooning mecca. The festival has a range of fringe attractions, including fascinating exhibitions on the history of the sport, technical aspects and world records. 

A few technical terms: the part of the balloon into which hot air is injected is called the “envelope”. The basket, usually made of wicker, is effectively the cockpit. The balloon’s motor is an adjustable burner that runs on propane and injects hot air into the envelope. 

So how does it fly? Put simply, the heated air inside the balloon is lighter than the surrounding air, thus providing upward thrust. And how does it come down again? The parachute valve at the very top of the balloon is opened by a cord extending down to the pilot. He can allow hot air to escape, thus cooling the air in the envelope. To manoeuvre the balloon laterally, the pilot ascends or descends to catch the wind travelling in the required direction, as winds at different levels travel in different directions.

As you can see from these pictures, the festival provides a remarkable kaleidoscope of colour.

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