The first question most people ask about the balloon is 'why does the Air Force have a balloon?'.
The simple answer is 'public relations'. The longer answer is 'to promote a positive image of the Air Force'. The even longer answer is that the Air Force uses the balloon to travel to regional areas where it is not economical to send the Roulettes aerobatic team or other aircraft.
The Air Force still needs to maintain a presence in these areas for recruiting and to maintain community awareness. Sending an F/A-18 to do a fly-past would cost too much and take the aircraft away from its normal tasking.
The Air Force Balloon typically receives a very enthusiastic and positive response from the public and frequently receives excellent media exposure in regional areas. Studies have shown the Air Force would have to spend approximately $4 on advertising for every $1 spent on operating the balloon to obtain equivalent exposure. Therefore the Air Force Balloon is a very economical and effective way to raise awareness of the Air Force, particularly in regional areas.
What is the Air Force Balloon? Or, more accurately, what are the Air Force Balloons? The Air Force has operated a number of balloons since it first started balloon operations in 1990. All the balloons have been manufactured in Sydney by Kavanagh Balloons. Most of the balloons carried the Air Force badge on the side of a two-tone light and dark blue balloon. They have varied in size from 77,000 to 105,000 cubic feet, which means they could carry between two and five passengers. You can learn more about the balloons in Our Balloons and the History of Air Force Balloons.
The Air Force Balloon is operated by Central Flying School, based at HMAS Harman in Canberra. The Balloon Pilot job is a rotational position, just like any other posting for pilots in the Air Force. The Balloon Pilot is supported by Reserve ground crew, who complete balloon duties in addition to other Air Force duties and, often, civilian employment.
The Air Force Balloon travels throughout Australia and also conducts regular training flights in Canberra.
Balloon flights are usually conducted early in the morning, just after sunrise, because of the need for light and stable winds. Take-off times vary from about 6am in summer to about 8am in winter. Sometimes balloons can be flown late in the afternoon, although wind conditions are less reliable and therefore afternoon flights are less common.
The Air Force Balloon has flown in over 150 different locations since it started in 1990. See our calendar for details on where the balloon is scheduled to visit next.
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