One of the greatest discoveries by mankind is actually a very simple one. It only requires a material and air to defy gravity and was one of the first methods of human flight. Just like the box, the balloon is now revered as both a functional tool and a cherished toy.
Most balloons use either heated air or lighter gasses such as hydrogen and helium. The materials vary greatly, from metal and canvas to cloth, vinyl, and rubber. This has led to an explosion (sometimes literally) of different types and functions.
Here are 13 different types of balloon, some of which you may not have heard of before and others which you’ll recognize immediately.
Types of Balloons
1. Balloon Catheter
This medical instrument is inserted into blood vessels, the esophagus and stomach, or uterus. The end is inflatable, allowing it to apply enough pressure to unclog an artery or temporarily stop bleeding.
2. Barrage Balloon
A form of unmanned blimp, these balloons are usually tethered and serve as a deterrent against air raids. Some carry an explosive payload.
Barrage balloons aren’t used in modern warfare often due to complications caused by their tethers and their ineffectiveness against high flying planes.
3. Cluster Balloon
You’ve probably seen cartoons where the character buys a bunch of balloons and floats away. This is the concept behind cluster balloons, where the rider is attached to a series of helium-filled balloons, often in a harness or small gondola.
Water bottles are used to ascend, and the balloons are individually deflated or released to descend.
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Also known as airships or blimps, a dirigible is a powered craft that uses an air-filled container to remain aloft. The balloon itself may have a hard or soft shell and is elongated to resemble a torpedo or bomb. These ships include rudders for steering and a gondola for crew and passengers.
Two famous examples are the Zeppelin airship Hindenburg and the Goodyear blimp. The former was used for intercontinental flight but contained hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The latter is often seen flying over sports events and has led to a number of companies hiring blimps for advertising purposes.
5. Fire Balloon
No longer in use, these wartime balloons were popular in WWII. The balloon functioned similar to a hot air balloon and usually carried an explosive payload.
This allowed them to be launched across the Pacific and cause damage to parts of North America with less chance of being spotted than manned craft.
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6. Hopper Balloon
These small, one-man hot air balloons stay aloft for less than two hours and feature either a seat or parachute-like harness for the rider. They’re not as popular as full-sized hot air balloons, but can be quite fun for thrill seekers.
7. Hot Air Balloon
One of the oldest methods of human flight, modern hot air balloons feature a large balloon filled with heated air, a burner, weights, and a gondola and basket.
These largely recreational balloons can usually hold more than one person and are often flown in groups during festivals.
8. Observation Balloon
These dirigibles were once an important part of warfare. They have a small gondola in which a soldier can watch the surrounding territory for signs of enemy advancement.
They became less popular after WWI when firearms gained enough range to easily destroy them from a distance.
9. Pilot Balloons
Sometimes referred to as ceiling balloons, this is a special type of weather balloon used to measure the height of clouds. These balloons ascend at a measurable rate, allowing researchers to judge the height of a cloud by how long it takes the balloon to reach it.
They’re especially useful in determining the height of fog banks and other forms of cloud cover.
10. Research Balloon
These smaller balloons usually carry an equipment payload that allows them to take samples and measurements of the air at high altitudes. Weather balloons are the most common example, but research balloons have also been used by NASA to measure the atmospheres of other planets.
11. Solar Balloon
Usually considered toys, the solar balloon uses a material that heats up from the sun’s rays, causing the balloon to gain buoyancy. A top-mounted vent can be opened to allow the balloon to descend. Larger versions of solar balloons have been proposed for space exploration.
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12. Toy Balloon
Chances are, when you think of balloons, you think of the toy balloon. These tiny balloons are made of inexpensive materials and come in various shapes and colors. Some of these shapes can be twisted to create animals and other simple objects.
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13. Water Balloon
This version of a toy balloon is made of a special material that makes them easier to fill using water. They can then be thrown or dropped at targets, bursting upon impact.
Unlike most materials used for toy balloons, the material breaks with minimal risk of injury and far less noise.