[balloon-makers] Used Envelope

Tom Deering hot-air at deering.org
Fri Mar 8 04:12:38 CST 2002

I respond to you, Geoff, because the idea of flying an exhausted 
envelope occurred to me as well, not long ago.  Add a weedburner and 
a barbecue tank and you're airborne.  After a little research, I can 
see three or four problems with the idea.

Turns out, a porous envelope is kind of like a $50 car with a blown 
engine.  Such an auto might still "run", but it will only get three 
gallons to the mile.  Repairs would cost more than the car is worth, 
which is why the original owner doesn't keep it.  It's seemingly 
economical, but impractical.  I suspect you'd be in a similar 
position if you bought that porous envelope.

Porous envelopes are not uncommon.  They all end up that way, 
eventually, because there's no practical way to make them non-porous 
again.  Either they go to a museum, or they are scrapped, even if the 
cloth is perfectly good in every other way.  (Some pilots keep 
non-flyable envelopes in the garage for sentimental reasons, which is 
somewhere between museum and scrapped.  Who could blame them.) Once 
you start making contacts, you will learn there are pilots who will 
literally give away an exhausted envelope just like the one you are 
thinking about buying.

I know one pilot who has an old porous envelope.  He uses one section 
as a giant ground cloth. The rest is just too heavy to haul to the 
dump. It seems valuable, since it probably cost $60,000 new, but 
today it's scrap. (You can't even re-use the cloth to make a tent 
because it smells.)

There are those who would suggest you build your own.  If you're an 
avid do-it-yourselfer, you might consider sewing the envelope.  It's 
not something just anybody would do.  It's a physically enormous job, 
and requires an industrial sewing machine.  You might save some money 
this way.  Depends what your time is worth.  There are certainly 
other advantages.  I would only suggest it if you would genuinely 
enjoy the construction. See the excellent balloon building pages at 

Whether your envelope is new, used or homemade, you are going to need 
a ton of other items to make it fly. And these parts are not cheap. 
You won't find this stuff at the Home Depot or at garage sales.  The 
cost quickly adds up: basket, burner, instruments, tanks, hoses, 
inflator fan. And a trailer, if you don't have a pickup. We're 
talking thousands of dollars just to fly a "$500 envelope" which will 
soon need to be replaced.

Then there's a tiny legality problem.  There are two kinds of 
balloons, which are governed by two sets of laws.  If you build it 
yourself, and it's lightweight, then the laws are somewhat relaxed. 
But this balloon was not made by you, so the laws are more strict. 
You can only fly the envelope with the basket and burner it came 
with, or ones exactly like them. (And you need a pilot's license, 
another minor item.)

When the owner said it would pass inspection, he meant: "It would 
pass inspection if you had the basket and burner, which I'm keeping." 
It's a little fishy to me why he would sell just the envelope to you, 
knowing this.  He ought to know it's a $500 tarp right now.

Finally, the nomex skirt is no big deal.  I bought one for $35 
dollars plus shipping, and then shelved it because it's too heavy. 
I'll sell it to you for $500.  :^)

I might make this suggestion to you.  Find a balloon pilot in your 
area, and volunteer your time as a crew member.  He'll be thrilled, 
and you'll have a blast. You'll occasionally get tapped for a free 
ride.  Plus, the education you'll absorb will save you a stack of 
money in the long run.


PS:  Almost everyone here knows I am the least experienced balloon 
builder on the face of the earth, probably of all time, not counting 
the Montgolfier brothers.  As always, I happily invite nitpick, er, 
corrections.  :^)
tmd at deering.org    http://www.deering.org
"Balloon-makers" is archived at

More information about the Balloon-makers mailing list