Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloon

Posted on: June 15, 2008

This is a really enjoyable projects for the students. I’ve done this with kids from 7th grade to 12th grade and always with positive results. Allow two days for the building of these balloons. Use the template design to make a full size template. Even better, make several templates, it will make the project go much faster and smoother.

Hot air balloon on her headThe hot air balloons are almost five feet tall when they are completed. If the students put a little thought into the design, they turn out really colorful. I do this activity when I’m discussing buoyancy. The temperature differential between the air inside the balloon and outside the balloon causes a density difference. The inside air expands due to the heat and becomes less dense. Just like in any liquid, an object less dense than the surrounding medium will float. One of the key points is that air is a medium just like water and that is why the balloon floats. This is not a good activity to do on a hot fall or spring day, a cold, still day is best. If I am in the gym, I use an electric heat gun to generate the hot air. If I go out to the fields (which is way more fun), I take a propane torch and VERY carefully heat the air inside the balloon. Last year I caught one of the balloons on fire. It took off into the sky and burned at the same time. There was nothing left in only a few short seconds.

I used to get the tissue paper on sale after Christmas at craft stores and drug stores. Now I go to the dollar store, they have a pack of about 30 very colorful sheets of wrapping tissue for a dollar (duh). As for the size, you won’t easily find the size sheets called for on the web site. I just have them do their best, but if this concerns you, you can scale the size of the template to match the paper.

You will need: tissue paper, glue sticks, scissors, some string (to close the top), and aluminum wire to keep the mouth open. Try to get aluminum wire, copper is much heavier and will impact their flight.

Some quick tips: They use pins to hold the tissue paper together. I just staple outside the pattern, it’s much quicker and easier. You get about two balloons per glue stick, so have plenty on hand. Good scissors really make a difference with tissue paper. When you go to launch, take a glue stick and some spare tissue paper for patching and field repairs.

Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloon

(These plans were printed off the original site, the original link is dead.)

On the first page you will see part of the template layout.  Do not fret, the last page has both the authors original 60″ template and my super-sized template for a 90″ hot air balloon.  Yes, I made one.  Yes it was awesome, although a little hard to manage.

For some reason, regardless of the age of the kids, they love to catch them on their heads. There is no harm in doing this as long as you did a good job securing the aluminum wire.  Have fun.


22 Responses to "Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloon"

Salut, send me a news about your classroom on Physics!

Anyone have the info from the website? The current link points to a webpage that is gone.

Apparently it is gone. I have the original documents with the layout for the template. I am going to have to recreate it and add it as an attachment here unless anyone else has it in electronic form. Anyone?

I believe this is what you are looking for:

That is exactly the process except that the template isn’t quite as nice as the original. I will get to it, I promise, I just don’t know when.



How long do you heat with the propane torch?

Here’s what I do. I get two or three students to hold the balloon open at about chest height, they need to keep it from collapsing in. I get under the balloon and aim the torch into the opening of the balloon. You must obviously be very careful not to get too close to the paper or it will ignite instantly (it only happened to me once).

This does not work well on a windy day. It’s hard to keep the warm air in the balloon, the wind knocks the balloon over and pushes all the air out. When the balloon starts to stay up on it’s own, have the holders only hold the bottom of the balloon. After a minute or so, you will feel it pulling to go up. By now I’m tired of holding the torch, so I tell them to let go. Wind and outside temperature make it a bit variable. A little practice and you will know very quickly what you are doing. Just be careful with the torch.

We tried to heat our balloons today but we were having a difficult getting any of them to fly. It was a cold day with minimal wind so conditions were good. I am not sure if the propane torch did not produce enough heat. It is just a 14 oz handheld propane torch. We would heat some of them for 3-4 minutes and they would still not fly. Any ideas why they did not work? It was disappointing for the kids and me. This was the first time I have tried this lab. Thanks for your help!

What was the outdoor temp? Too cold and they won’t fly very well.

I believe you have that backwards. Hot air balloons rise because cold air is denser than hot air. If you try to heat up the balloon on a hot day, you will find it hard to get enough of a temperature difference to make the balloon rise. A cold morning is usually better, the air is still and the larger differential makes the balloon more buoyant.

I am very interested in using this hot air balloon idea for a lesson plan i have to do for my college Goemetry class. I was wondering if in your classes y’all do any applications with geometry?

I don’t, but you could break the balloon into sections and try to calculate the volume.

Love this as an idea for a lesson to coincide with the Chinese lantern festival (17th February this year). I found this video at which gives another method of making the balloons and also contains a nice animation showing the science behind how hot air balloons work.

I have been negligent in not fixing this post, but I finally did. The plans are now attached and are way bigger than those silly little Houston balloons.

Yes, the animation is cool, but the balloons are wimpy.

I did this in class with my Year 7 students. We used a paint-stripper to heat the air inside the balloons – we also did it inside! The balloons rose nicely to the ceilings (which are pretty high) and then floated down. No need to worry about wind!

When I did this in 2010, used methylated spirits soaked through cotton balls as the heat source. This created awesome balloons that floated super-high outside, across the field, and when the balloon caught fire and collapsed – it dropped a burning ball of cotton balls onto whatever lay below (in this case – the local primary school). Needless to say, I didn’t repeat that in 2011 🙂

I think that this is good for us students to use on how to use it to the full we need just this thANKS

We are using one of those air popcorn popers in class and I was wondering if it would work well enough… (we are doing it inside.)

My gut reaction is no. I don’t think the air is hot enough. I could be wrong, there is certainly no harm in trying, but I use the heat gun on the hot setting and it takes about 2 minutes to generate lift.

Do you approve if I quote a handful of of your articles or blog posts but I offer credit and sources back to your web site? My weblog is in the very exact same region of interest as yours and my site visitors would undoubtedly benefit from some of the info you existing right here. Please let me know if this okay with you. Cheers!

Sure, just provide links to the articles and I’m fine with it.

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