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You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-11, which are based on Reading Passage 1 below.


  • The birth of the hot air balloon is largely contributed to the efforts of two French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, who employed the fact that hot air was lighter than cool air and using this, managed to lift a small silk balloon 32 metres into the air. The brothers went on to elevate a balloon into the air ten thousand metres before it started to descend and then exploded. Arguably limited success, but their work came to the eye of the French Science Academy as the discovery of the properties of hot air balloons helped scientists to study weather patterns and the atmosphere.
  • It was not until some considerable time later that a balloon was launched that was capable of carrying passengers. Initial flights were trialled by animals, but after the success of these voyages, two passengers, Jean Francois Pilatre and Francois Laurent d’Arlendes, were sent up in a balloon which travelled across Paris for 29 minutes. The men fuelled the fire in the centre of their wicker basket to keep the balloon elevated and the trip across Paris was a great success.
  • The discovery of hydrogen-fuelled flights led to the death in 1785 of Pilatre, a tragedy which caused a downfall in the popularity of hot air ballooning but an increase in the popularity of hydrogen. Hot air ballooning lost further ground when alternate modes of air travel were introduced» but in the 1950s, ballooning experienced something of a revival as a leisure activity and sport. Today there are balloons of all shapes and sizes, with many unique designs.
  • In 1987, British entrepreneur Richard Branson crossed the Atlantic in a balloon named Virgin Atlantic Flyer. At the time, this balloon was the largest ever constructed at 65 thousand cubic metres, but four years later, he and Per Lindstrand from Sweden flew nearly 8000 kilometres from Japan to Northern Canada in their balloon the Virgin Pacific Flyer, which was nearly 10 thousand cubic metres bigger and was the longest flight in a hot air balloon ever made. The Pacific Flyer was designed to fly in the trans-oceanic jet streams and recorded the highest ground speed for a manned balloon at 394 kilometres per hour.
  • There are now a wide variety of designs and equipment available, from baskets with room for two people right up to 35 or more, separated compartments and specially designed flame resistant fabrics, but the basic parts of the balloon have remained relatively unchanged. There is a basket, commonly made of wicker, inside which are stored the propane fuel tanks. Immediately above the basket and partly wrapped around by the skirt are the burners, attached on suspension wires. The balloon itself is made of strips of fabric called gores which run from the skirt to the top of the balloon; they are further broken into individual panels. This section of the craft is referred to as the envelope. At the top of the envelope is a self closing flap that allows hot air to escape at a controlled rate to slow ascents or cause the balloon to descend descents. This is named the parachute valve, and is controlled by the vent line – the cable that runs the length of the envelope and hangs just above the basket so the pilot can open and close the parachute valve.
  • At the mercy of prevailing wind currents, piloting a balloon takes a huge amount of skill but the controls used are fairly straight forward. To lift a balloon the pilot moves the control which releases propane. The pilot can control the speed of the balloon by increasing or decreasing the flow of propane gas, but they cannot control horizontal direction. As a result, balloons are often followed by ground crew, who may have to pick up the pilot, passengers and balloon from any number of landing sites. A pilot who wants to fly a hot air balloon must have his commercial pilot’s license to fly and must have at least 35 hours of flight instruction. There are no official safety requirements for passengers onboard, but they should know whom they’re flying with and what qualifications they may have. For safety reasons, hot air balloons don’t fly in the rain because the heat in the balloon can cause water to boil on top of the balloon and destroy the fabric.
  • One of the largest hot air balloon organisations is the Balloon Federation of America. Founded in 1961, membership in the BFA attracts those with a fascination with ballooning (or ‘Lighter Than Air’ flight). With an active discussion forum, meetings and displays all around the USA and beyond, the BFA runs on a number of guiding principles, primarily that the future of ballooning is directly related to the safety of enthusiasts. They run a number of training courses, from a novice who is interested in getting a basic licence to pilot achievement courses. They even boast of a balloon simulator, which although will not directly lead to a pilot’s license, it can give participants a degree of the sensation enjoyed by professional balloon pilots.
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