Introduction: Candle Powered Hot Air Balloon

Picture of Candle Powered Hot Air Balloon

Build a candle powered hot air balloon using painter's plastic, balsa wood, and birthday candles.

Step 1:

Picture of

Cut the plastic and heat-seal the edges.

Layout your materials on a large sheet cardboard.

Pull out approximately 6 feet of the painter's plastic and cut it forming a sheet 9 x 6 ft. It's important to have plastic that is 1/2 mil (12 microns) or thinner. Thicker plastic is too heavy to fly.

Fold the sheet in half along the 9 ft side forming a two-ply sheet 4.5 x 6 ft. Use a hot knife to seal the two 4.5 ft edges. An electric hot knife makes this really easy, but it can also be done with an old metal knife heated over a flame.

Check your edges and correct any large holes. A few small holes won't cause problems.

Step 2:

Picture of

Melt candles together and attach them to balsa. Again, an electric hot knife makes this step a breeze. A heated fork can achieve the same results. Make sure to do both sides.

Once the candles are attached together, melt them to the middle of a piece of balsa wood 3/16 x 1/8 x 36 inches.

Step 3:

Picture of

Assemble the balsa frame.

Make an "H" with the 36 in balsa and candle piece and two 3/16 x 1/8 x 30 in balsa sticks. Make the joints with a small piece of clear tape.

Step 4:

Picture of

Tape the balloon to the balsa frame.

Step 5:

Picture of

Use a stick inside the balloon to hold the plastic away from the candles and light them. Keep holding the plastic up until enough hot air has filled the balloon to inflate it.

Step 6:

Picture of

It's an amazing feeling when your creation first gets lift and starts to take off.

At this stage, there's about ten thousand things that could go wrong. Carefully think everything through before you actually do it.

I tied some thread to mine so I could fly it inside our warehouse without it getting away and setting the place on fire.

It will drip a lot of hot wax, so keep it over the cardboard if possible. Also, if you let the candles burn all the way down, the balsa will catch on fire. I am currently experimenting with other types of candles to prevent this.

Fly safe!


807302 (author)2017-10-05

that is cool

dalecarlile (author)2009-09-25

Back when I was in college we used to make these and connect several together with thread into a large circle. We would launch them up wind from an evening event and then call in the "UFO" to the radio station covering the event. A little chrome paint or reflective paint in top makes interesting night lights in the sky.

FunLife3315 (author)dalecarlile2017-02-07

sounds like a good troll :-)

ponch442 (author)2016-12-27

I heard about one of these starting a fire a while back

The fire started at about 9:00 p.m. on October 8, in or around a small
barn belonging to the O'Leary family that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street

a major contributing factor to the fire’s spread was a meteorological phenomenon known as a fire whirl
As overheated air rises, it comes into contact with cooler air and
begins to spin creating a tornado-like effect. These fire whirls are
likely what drove flaming debris so high and so far.

120 bodies were recovered, but the death toll may have been as high as 300.

MattH157 (author)2016-07-22

Please, do NOT make or bring these to Burning Man. They pose a serious risk for fires not only inside Black Rock City, but also in the surrounding landscape. Not to mention if you are not going to track it, chase it down, and pick it up, its MOOP!

OliviaL14 (author)2016-04-14

Will this be able to carry a dead hawk?

MiscalliousS (author)2016-01-08

i did a similar one but the plastic burned, what am i missing?

milesnorth (author)2014-12-08

I found a "xmas tree bag" and its got me thinking :-) Extra big, white, and infinitely inflatable :-) I can see myself out in sub zero temperatures making a hot air balloon already! Fun Fun Fun!

milesnorth (author)2014-12-08


imrational (author)2012-08-20

I use to make these out of tissue paper and balsa (with an aluminum foil cup to hold the fuel) when doing science lessons for elementary school kids. For the fuel, I'd recommend melting some vaseline and soaking a cottonball in it. Then put the cottonball in your fuel chamber/gondola. Inflate the balloon with a hair dryer and then light your cotton ball.

ali reza (author)2012-01-04

I'm a High school student .I'm work About the physics of Paper (lanterns)hot air balloon
Please Help me for physics and make a Paper hot air balloon.
Especially About (physics of) Form this Paper hot air balloon.

fengström (author)ali reza2012-04-02

Oh, you can calculate the difference directly by PVM/R(1/T1-1/T2)=m1-m2

fengström (author)ali reza2012-04-02

Hi! If you google Ideal gas law. That will tell you that PV=nRT. Where P is pressure, V is volume, n is number of moles, R is the gas constant and T is the temperature. All units in the SI-system. You can rewrite it to PV=m/M*RT. Where m is mass and M is the mole mass. Calculate how much a given volume weighs at the ambient condition. Normal values for P is 1.013 KPa and R=8.314 J/(K*mol). Next, estimate how hot the air can be (this could be quite tricky) and then calculate the weight of that air. The difference in mass should tell you how much lift there is

Dr.Bill (author)2011-10-31

We did this in 6th grade some 40 years ago. We used crossed kite sticks, Sterno in tinfoil cups one cup for each stick, and a black plastic garbage bag.
We flew it on an almost windless day. It went up and drifted away.
I am glad it didn't start a fire in the woods.

~bRiGhT_LiGhTs~ (author)2011-09-10

To make this, do you have to use painters plastic ? Can't it be anything else other than painters plastic ? Can someone answer before Friday 16th, i need this for my science Project ! Tnx :D

javajunkie1976 (author)2011-07-17

How easy would it be to make a longer tube and power it with a Sterno can? I'm looking to build a hot-air airship for a steampunk design.

modded dollar store lighters would work i think. take off the metal cover and set the flame real high. tape it to the frame, tape the button down, then light it with another lighter. light fuel source and would go for a while. not very wind resistant tho, and probably a fire hazard......

yea it is a fire hazard cause if the flame is BIG and it burns for a while the valve starts to melt then it kinda just explodes.... its actually pretty cool to watch

njoneer (author)2010-06-18

A common dry-cleaning bag also works. It would let you skip this step.

Huntman00 (author)njoneer2011-07-08

yea my step mom is the manager of a dry cleaners so i can get thoes bags... but the problem is sealing the hole in the top of thoes bags because of where the hanger hook goes.

sbridges1 (author)2011-05-22

Hey thanks for the advise guys!! I wanted to do thease at my guide camp but i think we will but we'll teather them to the ground - on a long bit of string so we dont burn the site down!!

Also we'll do them on a 'small' scale with swing bin liners.

palog (author)2009-05-30

wouldn't birthday candles just melt really fast

FurtherThanTesla (author)palog2010-07-10

thats the point. they burn fast. if you usedd a slower burning candel, it wouldnt generate enough heat to keep its own weight in the air

ilpug (author)FurtherThanTesla2011-05-17

you could possibly use some jellied alcohol fuel like William Gurstelle suggests in Backyard Ballistics (only the best book ever)

ilpug (author)2011-05-17

would it be possible to put a bit of aluminum foil between or around the balsa wood and the candles to prevent the candles from burning the wood? or would that be too heavy?

hogey74 (author)2011-04-28

In Australia we call these UFOs and make em out of big garbage bags. I hear what people are saying about the fire risk so common sense is obviously needed. The answer is to only release em just after rain when the whole landscape is wet. Maybe not upwind of an oil refinery though. Some would say never do it but I say: let those UFOs fly!

wbsbadboy (author)2009-09-17

A word to the wise here. I think it was around 1989 when a close friend was launching these about once a week or so just to hear the reaction on his police scanner. Well one night he launched one and it started a fire on a wood shake shingle roof about a mile away. He had no idea that this had happened as he didn't listen to the fire department frequencies. Just the police. Two more launches and they had his general area down to a three block radius. Two weeks later he was arrested and charged with Arson. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Police said that he was lucky that no one was killed or injured. If someone would have been killed he would have faced premeditated murder charges. If injured he would have faced attempted murder charges. Please do not launch these things as "UFOs". Keep them teathered or inside. Here in California it is illegal to release anything that is burning that is not short lived (like a bottle rocket or fireworks that leave the ground). These balloons are easily carried miles away still burning. If you are caught you could face up to a year in jail, and/or fines up to 5,000.00 for the first offence. Be Safe, Be Sure, and Be Happy Best, Smitty

mondaymonkey (author)wbsbadboy2011-01-25

How did your friend get 4 years in prison when towards the end, you said you could face up to 1 year in prison?

wbsbadboy (author)mondaymonkey2011-01-26

He was convicted of arson. Just getting cought doing this without burning something down can get you a year

rendermatt (author)wbsbadboy2010-11-30

haha wow thanks for the info

nerfer192 (author)2011-01-21

we built these in my science club with trash bags, wire, and alcohol soaked cotton balls

_-MacGyver-_ (author)2010-12-18

Anyone Remer the a-team Episode where Murdock and Hannibal used TARASSH BAGS, hair dryers, and lawnchairs to escape from prison.. Id liek to see someone do somethign similar :D

flamesami (author)2010-12-06

hmm...maybe you could make a "kid-safe", indoor version....
If you substituted the candles for a VERY small weight, and used a non-attached hair-dryer as a heat source, you could have several on the go at once, with no fire hazard...not as fun without fire though...

zilcho (author)2010-12-04

This could be an awesome windless kite

nutsandbolts_64 (author)2010-08-22

Can't you just suspend the candles with steel wire? Then suspend cardboard under the candles so that you won't need a large piece of cardboard lying around on the floor of your warehouse.

how i can attach candel to that........

Uh, it's wire, you can bend it everywhere. You can make a basket out of it or whatnot.

tinstructable (author)2010-07-25

If you didn't want to worry about it floating away, you could probably tie some fishing line on it.

FurtherThanTesla (author)2010-07-10

I recently got inrested in rigid zepplins, and wanted to build an RC non-rigid blimp< however, found myself lacking any helium. I figured i coul make a mini hot air balloon and put RC fans on it... i would have a flap controled by a servo to redirect heat from the flame to lift of lower the balloon...

thedogsaysocho (author)2010-06-12

So will one big candle jack up the ba

others may not have gotten this but I did good sir! +10 Internets for you!

hammertong (author)2010-06-14

I actually spotted and shot down (with a bb gun) one of these. Me & my brother thought we were crazy because we saw a fire just floating in the sky as the balloon slowly made its way towards us. Finally it got close enough to tell what it was, and to keep it from lighting anyone's house on fire we shot enough holes in it to bring it safely to the ground.

tech53 (author)2010-06-14

How about using chemical hand warmers in an aluminum pie tin or something? That should provide sufficient heat, and if you don't want to wait on the hot air you could fill the balloon with air using a hair dryer or a candle or something.

desotojohn (author)2010-06-12

This is DANGEROUS. In the 1960's, I remember newspaper accounts of this type of hot air baloon causing roof fires. Don't do this!

Whales (author)2010-06-12

I saw this a long time ago on one of those 90's kids science shows. That guy was crazy, but it oddly made me want to make it. good chance now. I'll let you know how things go!

ac1D (author)2010-06-12

You should try to power them with a wax fuel, I Don't know where to get them, but there is two include with this product: and it make it fly really well.

FilAmFighter01 (author)2009-09-09

I saw this done before from the American Boys Handy Book, by Neally Croft just different materials. I like the new materials being used. BIG Caution is Balloons can start fires easly, carefull where you fly them!

devon1996 (author)FilAmFighter012010-04-20

what do u need to make it

oakspoor (author)FilAmFighter012009-09-17


I'm pretty sure the american boys handy book is by Dan beard.

About This Instructable




Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
More by ewilhelm:LEGO table with integrated parts binCustom Wooden Train Track X-crossingMad Max and War Boy Nux father son costume
Add instructable to: