For over 200 years the wicker basket has served as part of the hot air balloon sport. In the earliest days these were sometimes no more than wicker clothes hampers hung beneath the balloon. The basket on display here at the museum is of a triangular shape with three sides for the basket occupants to look over the sides of the basket.
The design of the triangular basket came about in an interesting manner. In the 1960’s, a person by the name of Tracy Barnes experimented with basket design. Barnes took note that on average, 30 gallons of fuel was standard for supplying the burner(s) that were used in heating the air in the balloon envelope. Since 10 gallon aluminum fuel tanks were standard in the early 1970’s, 30 gallons meant 3 tanks, and three tanks equated to three corners in the basket! To operate a hot air balloon, the large canopy above the basket is filled with air that is heated from below using a propane heater(s). The heater is mounted below a small opening in the envelope, but above the basket where the occupants ride.
As the air heats up it develops buoyancy with respect to the air around it causing the craft to rise in the atmosphere. The altitude of the balloon is controlled by controlling the amount of heat that is introduced into the air inside the envelope Some directional control is possible by the skilled balloonist changing the altitude of the balloon to experience winds of varying velocity and direction.
In past times the Santa Clara Valley has been used to some extent by balloonists. It was quite common to see balloons being launched and flown down the valley from north to south whereupon the balloonist would pick an open field to land in by decreasing the amount of heat being put into the envelope. These flights were followed by a “chase vehicle” that would follow the balloons flight and be used to pick up the balloon and its occupants after it landed.