Up, Up, and Away! Hot Air Balloons

Up, Up, and Away! Hot Air Balloons
Elizabeth Monroe: Sports and Popular Culture

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One to two class periods


Human fascination with being air-borne can be documented back to the ancient Greeks.  But it was the year of Elizabeth Monroe’s 14th birthday that the technology was developed to allow the creation and flight of the first hot air balloon.  The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, were the 18th century equivalent of Charles Lindbergh.  This exciting activity developed within the span of Elizabeth Monroe’s life, and it's popularity has extended into the 21st century!


The purpose of this lesson is to assist students in the development of their inquiry/research skills and in creating timelines in addition to introducing them to the importance that scientific and technological advances have on society.  Although hot air balloons were not used for scheduled transportation, their evolution opened the way to the development of other forms of flying machines—the dirigible and attempts at “lighter-than-air” crafts.  The proliferation of balloon “lifts” attests to the continuation of this sport’s popularity, and its place in the world of popular culture.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.  Access to print reference materials on the history of the hot air balloon.


1.  Using the websites noted under Resources, have students identify the primary parts of the original hot air balloons. 
  • Envelope
  • Burner
  • Basket
2. Divide students into groups and assign each group a particular part of the balloon to research.  The point here is to emphasize the technology that contributed to the design, development, and use of that part of the balloon.  In other words, what did we know from science that made the invention of the hot air balloon possible?  Students might look, for example, at the following:
  • Principle of bouyancy
  • air pressure
  • gravity
  • altimeter
  • variometer
  • compass
  • pressure valve
3.  The responsibility of each group is to develop a timeline, not of hot air ballooning (which in itself is fascinating) but of the inventions that contributed to the introduction of the activity—in other words they are looking at the history of the science of hot air ballooning. 

Extending the Lesson:

The timeline can be developed using illustrations.  This lesson can also be an opportunity to engage in collaboration with the physics teacher.  An additional lesson option is to research the work of Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier.

Sources & Resources:

            Dennisten, George. The Joy of Ballooning.
            Lenssen, Ann. A Rainbow Balloon.      
            Spindler, Alisa. Hot Air Balloons.


       Hot Air Balloons
       Hot Air Balloons on Wikipedia
       How Hot Air Balloons Work

This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.