[balloon-makers] Paraffin burners

thomas at flyingkettle.com thomas at flyingkettle.com
Fri Apr 27 16:37:09 CDT 2001

Dear Curtis and the List:

I am very interested in your experience with your paraffin burner, 
because I think it is probable that a liquid fuel setup might be more 
effective for my own project, than a LPG one.

I am working on making a Steam Balloon - see my website 
identified by the signature. The project is progressing fine, although 
not very fast because I do need to make a living..... We are 
starting to build a flight boiler now, which is quite painstaking work. 
When it is completed, of course I will test it with a gas burner 
initially, but I intend to try for paraffin later (or even solid fuel - but 
that is another story!)

I know that the stated disadvantages of paraffin/kerosene (not 
"diesel") as a balloon fuel are that it may dirty the envelope - not 
applicable in the case of a steam balloon, because the heat goes 
into the lift gas via a heat exchanger - and that, if the flame goes 
out, (a) you get a flamethrower effect; (b) the splashed around 
liquid fuel doesn't go away quietly, as LPG does, but hangs around 
and makes it dangerous to relight. I would have thought that some 
type of flame failure device could be worked out, which would 
positively prevent flameouts. Have you considered this?

In the case of a Steam Balloon, there is no 
requirement to vary the output of the burner over any 
very great range, because to do so wouldn't have 
much short-term effect on the flight of the craft 
anyway. In other words, you won't be able to arrest a 
quick descent by turning up the burner to very high, 
as you can in a hot air balloon. (Another means must 
be found). This means that the duty cycle demands 
upon the burner are not so severe, as in the case of a 
hot air balloon. It will only have to operate relatively 

I was most interested in your point about fuel 
availability in third-world countries. It had not 
occurred to me, but it is extremely valid.

You did not express certain other points which favor 
paraffin/kerosene over propane/LPG:

(1) it is cheaper;

(2) it is much more easy to charge kerosene into a 
tank, than to charge LPG into a cylinder. Balloonists 
often have to go quite a long way and spend quite a 
lot of time, to fill their LPG tanks. Simple filling up 
with kerosene in a service station would resolve a 
medium-scale headache. There would also be the 
attractive possibility of keeping a large tank of the 
stuff on hand for one's own refills between flights or 
between weekends.

(3) Kerosene tankage is vastly cheaper;

(4) Kerosene is safer;

(5) Kerosene tankage can be much lighter, and it also 
can be unified - no need ever to change over tanks!

(6) Kerosene has no low-temperature pressure 

(7) The calorific value is slightly higher.

Given all these advantages, I find it somewhat 
surprising, that more effort has not been put in over 
the years for making a really practical and smoothly 
working kerosene burner for hot-air balloons. It seems 
to me that the smoke problem, and the flame-out 
problem, could be overcome with some effort.....

Yours, Thomas Goodey

"Full steam aloft!" cried the Pilot to the Aerial Stoker, as
the staunch craft 'Flying Kettle' puffed upward into the sky...

Read about it at


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