Sites Focusing on Experimental and Ultralight Aircraft
hotairship.com -- a site covering both balloons and airships
cloudhopper.org -- a US site for basketless balloons
cloudhoppers.org -- a UK site for basketless balloons
www.gasballooning.net -- Flying with helium or hydrogen rather than hot air
www.clusterballoon.org -- dedicated to a unique craft based on a cluster of helium balloons
"How To" Information
Balloon Builder's Journal -- an extremely useful collection of information available for free in PDF form. Get it now!
Email Discussion List
There is an online email forum of balloon builders called balloon-makers.
Archive of the previous postings
Subscription Instructions -- Visit this page to subscribe to the list
ballonconstruct -- Construction amateur d'Aerostats -- Yahoo group on balloon construction -- in French
These sites contain detailed information, such as construction times, budgets, etc, for balloons that individual people have built. They tend to have more
depth than breadth.
Mike Veliz's Build Blog -- Day by day account of Mike's project - currently underway!
Tetrahedron Balloons -- Keith Sproul's site about home-built balloons with envelopes the shape of an inverted pyramid. One of the great joys of home-building is the opportunity to fly a special-shape without paying an arm and a leg. These designs are an excellent example.
Steve Griffin's Hot Air Balloon Page -- Steve, an Aussie, has lots of good information on several of his projects. His "Tools" section includes a modified (and metric) version of the famed Smalley/Deering spreadsheet for calculating gore shapes.
Building a Hot Air Balloon in Just About a Month -- A blog that follows the constrution fo a balloon envelope in a fairly short period. (Disclaimer - I wrote this blog.)
The Personal Blimp Project -- This is where I spend most of my time.
Ultralightballoons.com -- Mike Collier's site on his 22K vertical gore hopper.
Micro-airship -- Video of Dragoljub Zamurovic who has atttached a paramotor to a hopper and made a micro-airship.
Other Balloon Builder Sites
These sites contain lots of information about balloon building in general. They tend to have more breadth than depth.
Blastvalve Experimental Balloon Page -- Blastvalve is a site with lots of different links to ballooning info. This page focuses on home-building.
French Experimental Balloon Page -- This site has lots of good information in English as well as French. These folks have their own homebuilding clubs and hold regular tutorial sessions. We Americans are not nearly so well organized.
US FAA Registration and Certification Paperwork
- Certification and Operation of Amateur-Built Aircraft
(PDF format). This give a good run-down of the paperwork involved in getting legal.
EAA Amateur-Built Aircraft Certification Kit -
This kit includes a booklet (much of which is covered in the FAA AC above) as well as copies of the
various forms -- some of which can not be downloaded online. I think it is well worth the price.
- Amateur-Built Aircraft & Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook, (PDF format). Airplane oriented
but can help get you thinking the way serious people do about testing.
List of DARs
- A List Designated Airworthiness Representatives (PDF format).
If you can't get your local FAA folks to process your paperwork directly,
then you will need to hire one of these folks.
General Balloon Supplies and Outfitting
Balloon Excelsior -- These folks do pretty much everything concerning balloons -- a part 141 flight school, repairs, used parts, how-to-fly books, etc. I earned my commercial balloon rating at their balloon school and was pleased with the experience. I've never had the chance to deal with them as parts vendors
Balloon Repair of East Texas -- I've never had occasion to do any business with these folks. So I can't vouch for them myself. But they've been around for quite a while, I've heard folks say nice things about them, and they seem to have a good selection of used balloon parts.
Best Aviation -- This is a shop run by Bert Padelt. He's one of the most respected experimental balloon builders in the world. Bert builds both hot air and gas balloons. He doesn't have a web site (in spite of my nagging him about it.) But he can be reached via email to bestavi at aol dot com or phone to 610-845-7857. I've only done a little bit of business with Bert to date and have been very pleased. I also know several folks who've done business with him and they all have nothing but glowing things to say.
Boland Balloon -- Brian Boland is one of the most experienced balloon builders in the world. Last I checked, he'd built over 130 balloons as well as half a dozen hot air airships. He owns and operates the Post Mills Vermont airport. Brian used to host an annual experimental balloon meet for many years. Brian sells designs, kits, and completed balloons. He also has a good selection of balloon parts, fabric, and components. He specializes in Balloonworks parts and burners. I got my first sewing lesson from Brian. We've done business happily on and off over the years. One thing to keep in mind is that Brian usually spends November thru April in New Zealand. He can be difficult to reach during those months.
Stumpf Balloons -- Paul Stumpf is another all around balloon guy. Paul runs a balloon repair shop and he's a distributor for Aerostar balloons (a really big company.) In addition to a good collection of used balloon parts and supplies, Paul has developed a wide range of custom balloon accessories. Very cool stuff indeed. I've done lots of business with Paul and have always been happy with the results.
Used Parts Classified Ads
Hotairballooning.com Classified Ads - The most active site listing used parts on the web.
Zebedeelist - UK list of used balloon parts.
These folks buy lots of fabrics from manufacturers, often "seconds"
and resell them on a retail basis. They are generally tight-lipped
about why the fabric is "seconds." They also generally won't provide
any test data for fabric. The fabric that I've bought and seen
seems to generally be of a quality that is reasonable to use on a
home-built balloon. However, please test any fabric that you buy
from any source for both tensile and tear strength.
Noah Lamport -- West Coast dealer. The
fabric that I've seen from these folks is quite good. They sell seconds
of both Exacta-chute and Soarcoat which are standard "name brand" fabrics
I've never had call to buy from them myself, but I've examined fabric purchased
by others and it seems of appropriate quality for balloon-building.
Westmark -- East Coast dealer.
There are the folks that I've bought most of my fabric from. Recently
they announed that they would no longer sell
1.9oz urethane coated fabric to balloon builders.
However, at last report, they were still willing
to sell both 1.1 oz uncoated and 1.3 oz silicone
coated fabrics to balloon builders. They also sell cordura and other
heavier fabrics for things like envelope bags, etc.
Performance Textiles -- Supplier of first
quality "Soar-Coat" and "Exacta-Chute" fabric. Expensive stuff, but something
to consider if you are uncomfortable about to buying seconds.
The following two vendors are overseas. Overseas vendors are see more
willing to deal with aviation materials than domestic vendors. I can only
guess that they are less concerned about winding up in court. If you are
uncomfortable about using seconds and don't want to go pay Performance Fabrics
prices and don't want to try to work up your own relationship with a
domestic manufacturer, then you might take a look at these folks.
Carrington Performance Fabrics -- An English
firm. Seem to have high quality and fairly expensive firsts. I've never done business with them
Gelvenor Textiles -- A South African
firm. Similar to Carrington in that they are a manufacturer selling
high quality and fairly expensive firsts. I've also never done business with them
Bally Ribbon Mills -- There are the folks that I bought all of my load tapes from.
Industrial Webbing -- They sell Velcro by the spool. I've purchased from them many times and they've been fine. The advice I've recieved from experienced builders is to pay the price and use genuine, brand-name Velrco rather than cheaper knock-offs. The quality of the knock-offs is too unreliable. I use the 88/1000 sew-on hook-and-eye style.
New England Rope -- Manufacturer of ropes for a wide variety of applications. Their T-100 cord, having parallel technora strands inside of a polyester sleeve is quite popular for both parachute lines and for suspension lines. You need to buy through a dealer as they don't sell
directly. Two of their dealers are listed below.
New England Yacht Rigging, 401-884-1112, Ask for Maggie. Be sure to tell
them that you are building a balloon since they are particularly interested
in the homebuilder market. I haven't done business with them yet but others
have and report good results and particularly good prices. They don't seem
to have a website.
Rope Inc -- Online seller of rope, and
associated hardware. I've never done business directly with them but others I know have and it's worked out fine for them.
Other Hardware and Misc
McMaster-Carr -- Industrial supplies of every type. If you want to buy anything, and I mean anything, from the smallest bearing to an entire computer-controlled milling machine, blocks of steel, tools, protective gear, you can find it at McMaster-Carr. The bad news is that their legendary catalogs (some 3600 pages) are very hard to get. If you buy enough stuff, you are deemed worthy of paper. The good news is that they've put the entire thing online. And theirs is one of the truly great shopping websites. Their search system is outstanding in that it enables you to progressively focus in on the item(s) you want. You can also "flip the pages" of the catalog in online form if you wish. Their prices are rarely the cheapest, but their selection is truly amazing and they've got warehouses all over the US so you can get 1 day delivery via UPS ground. A great resource. I love McMaster-Carr. For a guy who lives in the woods, they are key to being able to get my work done effectively. OK, nuf-said.
Aviation Spruce -- These folks are the standard source for aviation supplies for homebuilders. Their primary focus is airplanes, but many items, such as wire rope, are applicable to balloons. They have a particularly good selection of aluminum tubing. Good, free paper catalog.
Paragear -- Sellers of parachute equipment and supplies. Good selection of hardware. Their paper catalog costs $5 but, I like catalogs, so I think it's still worth getting.
Defender Marine Supply -- Sellers of boating equipment. They also have a spiffy, and free, paper catalog.
Northern Tool -- Misc outdoor equipment from generators, winches, trailers, etc. Good, free paper catalog.
Sewing Machine Manuals
Singer -- PDF scans of what looks like all Singer Industrial Machines. 353 versions in total.
Many details and "best practices" of balloon construction
can be gleaned from the Maintenance Manuals of various type certified balloons.
Lindstrand Manuals -- a list of the various online manuals for Lindstrand Balloons
Basic Manual -- This is a PDF version of the basic manual for all their balloons.
Hopper Bottom-End Manual -- This is a PDF version of manual for some of their hoppers.
Cameron Manuals -- a list of the various online manuals for Cameron Balloons
Aerostar Manuals -- a list of the various online manuals for Aerostar Balloons
Envelope Repair -- contains some nice goodies on how to splice webbing, acceptable seams, etc.
Fabric Test Methods -- information on both tensile and tear testing techniques
Ultra-high Altitude (above 100,000 feet) Ballooning
XAP -- Don Piccard's ultra-high altitude balloon project.
Above 100,000 Feet
Unretouched photo taken from an unmanned balloon.
June 2003. At noon. Over Denver. 100 ASA 35mm film.
Photo by Mark Caviezel of the Strato-X project.
Strato-X -- Mark Caviezel's site describing his ultra-high altitude balloon tourism plan.
JP Aerospace -- These folks are building a giant V-shaped airship that they say will get to 140,000 feet. In the meantime, they have made an extensive series of unmanned high altitude flights.
Other Related and Important Sites
Balloon Federation of America - The US National Ballooning Organization
Experimental Aircraft Association - The EAA is an excellent resource for information on experimental aircraft in general. They host the annual Airventure in Oshkosh which is generally considered to be "Mecca for homebuilts."
FAI Balloon Committee - These are the folks tho keep track of things like world records and such.
Blastvalve - General ballooning web link directory.
Ballooning History - Some information on how it all began.
Other Interesting and Somewhat Related Activities
Small Helium Blimps
White Dwarf - A small human-powered helium blimp
Zeppy - Another small human-powered helium blimp -- site in French only
These craft get their lift from setting up a "green house effect" inside
a balloon envelope. No fuel necessary. They usually fly unmanned.
Sulloon - a project in Germany
Solar Hopper -- Flying via solar radiation - site in French.
Star Field Solar Balloons -- Offers solar balloons for sale. Seem to be based in Europe, but contact details are sketchy.
Steam LTA - Thomas Goodey's project on building steam balloons and airships. Steam provides about twice the lift per volume than hot air, but requires about 8 times as much energy to produce and has awkward side-effects such as condensation inside the balloon. There is both general information about steam as a lifting gas as well as details about his particular projects. The photo essay of his coal-fired steam boiler are quite remarkable.
Edge of Space Ballooning
These folks design and build unmanned gas balloons for ultra-high altitude flight. In general, they seem to be more interested in the radios, cameras, and other eletronics than in the ballons per se. But it's interesting stuff nonetheless.
Edge of Space Science -- The radio leagues site
E-book -- a freely available online book on the subject.