Cloudhopper FAQs

This page includes a General FAQ addressing basic questions; a Balloonist FAQ, with somewhat more technical information intended for readers who are already balloon pilots; and a list of Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloudhoppers versus conventional hot-air balloons, also intended for balloonists.

General FAQ

Q: How long/far can you fly?

    A: Depending on the system, you carry enough fuel to fly for an hour to an hour and a half.

Q: Do you need a license to fly a Cloudhopper?

    A: It depends on the Cloudhopper, and where you're going to fly it.   Some types of Cloudhoppers, like other hot-air balloons, require a license from the FAA.

Q: How much does a Cloudhopper cost to purchase?

    A: A new system costs $15,000 - $20,000. Used equipment is occasionally available, but unless you're familiar with hot-air balloons, you should obtain an objective third-party opinion of any used system before purchase.

Q: How much does a Cloudhopper cost to operate?

    A: An hour's flight will consume about 10 gallons of propane, which costs about $15. Insurance and maintenance costs vary.

Q: How do I learn to fly a Cloudhopper

    A: Most Cloudhopper pilots learn to fly conventional hot-air balloons first.  Depending on the characteristics of the Cloudhopper, a pilot's license may be required (see below), and even if it isn't, your chances of surviving and prospering are much better if you learn from someone who knows what he or she is doing. 

Balloonist FAQ

If you already fly hot-air balloons and are switching over to a cloudhopper, the basics are very much the same, although there are some fine points of technique that you may pick up from talking to someone who has been flying Cloudhoppers for a while.

Q: Isn't that fuel tank on your back really heavy?

    A: You don't actually stand up until the balloon is fully supporting the weight of the system and some of your body weight as well.  (OK, kind of a dumb question, but it's something that even balloonists often ask me.)

Q: Why do you call it an "ultralight"?

    A: A Cloudhopper or other small, single-person balloon weighing less than 155 pounds is considered to be an "Ultralight Vehicle" by the FAA, and is regulated under Part 103.   Ultralight airplanes, hang-gliders and paragliders are other examples of ultralight vehicles.  The pilot of an ultralight vehicle is not required to hold a pilot's license, and the aircraft itself does not require FAA registration or an airworthiness certificate.

Q: What's Part 103?

    A: Part 103 is the part of the Federal Aviation Regulations that covers ultralight vehicles.  It contains the definition of an ultralight vehicle, and covers flight rules in a manner similar to Part 91.   Grossly summarized, the rules tell you to stay away from controlled airspace and "congested areas", and to observe VFR visibility minimums.  It's included in the commercial FAR/AIM books.

Q: Are all Cloudhoppers ultralights?

A: No.  If you want a 15 gallon fuel tank, for example, that usually puts you up over the 155 pound weight limitation, which means you're a regular aircraft operating under Part 91.  Since the two major balloon manufacturers who make Cloudhoppers don't have standard type certificates for Cloudhoppers in the U.S., that means you have to register your Cloudhopper as an Experimental aircraft.  This puts operating limitations on you that are in many ways as restrictive as the rules for ultralights.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Aside from the unique and fun characteristics of the Cloudhopper discussed above, Cloudhoppers have some notable advantages and disadvantages from a performance and operational perspective.

Advantages

A Cloudhopper is easy to transport and store.  Most systems will fit in an SUV, or even the trunk or back seat of a car -- although the inflator fan can be a problem with a car.  A Cloudhopper will also usually fit inside the basket of a conventional balloon.
A Cloudhopper is easy to inflate and deflate, generally requiring only one crew person.  A no-wind inflation can be completed without any crew.
A Cloudhopper is extremely maneuverable.  Ascents and descents can be started and stopped very rapidly in a Cloudhopper compared to a conventional sport balloon.
A Cloudhopper can be landed in relatively small areas.
In light winds, you can walk your Cloudhopper out of bad landing areas very easily.   With the balloon still inflated, it's possible to climb or jump over fences or other obstacles.  In a pinch, a deflated Cloudhopper is also pretty easy to carry short distances.
A Cloudhopper is more forgiving than a conventional balloon when you land with a slightly higher than normal rate of descent.  The pilot can absorb the landing shock on his/her knees, rather than having the flying wires go slack and then boinging up into the air again.
A single crew person can easily stop a Cloudhopper on landing in moderate winds, in conditions in which a normal sport balloon would need multiple crew and/or a bump and drag to come to a stop.

Disadvantages

Cloudhoppers are fairly difficult to inflate in wind.  The lack of the gimbal on the burner means that you have to aim the entire burner/tank assembly -- which is also what your quick-release is attached to.  This makes for interesting situations, like needing your crew to pick up the bottom of your tank just so you can get the flame to go into the mouth of the balloon.  Also, the mouth of the balloon is small and the overall size of the balloon is such that it can easily be caved in by a gust, however much you cold-air pack it.  In marginal cases, when the balloon is standing but with the envelope and mouth still caved in enough to make burning difficult, I've developed the technique of running downwind fast enough to relieve the pressure of the wind on the balloon, which opens up the mouth enough to put in some burns and get airborne -- effective, but not something I'd recommend to a beginner.
Cloudhoppers provide less protection to the pilot in a high-wind landing situation.   This issue is something that non-Cloudhopper balloonists often cite when they tell me "why I'd never get them up in one of those things " and deserves some discussion.  In Southern California, for both morning inland and coastal afternoon flying, I've flown the Cloudhopper as my primary balloon for several years, in the full range of conditions that other balloonists are willing to fly in, and I've have never had any fast landings beyond what I could handle, assuming an occasional willingness to get my clothing dirty.  The same was true when I was living in New England, although the pilots there tend to be conservative about windspeed anyway, given the necessity of landing in small areas between all the trees.  However, I agree that in places where real high-wind landings are common, a Cloudhopper would be a bad idea.
Flying a Cloudhopper can be a much more physical experience than flying a conventional balloon.  A windy inflation may require some strange contortions to get into the harness; a windy landing may require you to drag your lower body through treetops or brush to slow down, then run or be dragged on the ground.  This doesn't require any unusual degree of physical fitness, but it may not be suitable for pilots who aren't too limber or who have problems with participating in what is occasionally a contact sport.

 

Why a Cloudhopper?Sightings HopperTech Gallery
Links and References About Us/Contact Us