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5-28-19 — Science, Math, History Come to Life through Hot Air Balloon

May 28, 2019 ~ Indian Creek Elementary students were definitely excited about a special presentation that would take place outside the school, but they kept their cool and followed the three S rule; they were silent, still and serious as they heard about what they would see outside.

Parents Jennifer and Maury Petrehn, both aeronauts, brought one of their balloons to school to demonstrate the science behind hot air ballooning. It was the ultimate show and tell for their fifth-grade daughter and a unique learning experience for all students at school.

“During the week leading up to the hot air balloon demonstration, our school focused their science lessons on standards such as states of matter (liquid, solid, gas), the Earth’s spheres and weather patterns,” Principal Julie Sluyter said. “Incorporating a hot air balloon into those lessons provided a real-world experience for our students to see the science standards in action.”

Sitting quietly in the gym, students learned about the history of hot air ballooning, which dates to the late 1700s when the Montgolfier brothers combined their interest in science with their jobs in the family paper business. One of their earliest experiments with flight involved sending three small farm animals up in a basket suspended below a paper bag filled with hot air.

Today’s hot air balloons are much larger, made of coated nylon and initially filled with cold air to more than half-full before turning on propane burners to heat the air. Jennifer Petrehn explained that hot air makes the balloon envelope rise and letting the air cool will make the balloon descend. Wind speed and direction greatly impact a balloon flight because aeronauts can only steer a balloon by going up and down.

By the time students walked outside to see the actual hot air balloon inflation process, they knew they would see a colorful balloon that holds 56,000 cubic feet of air. Although a massive number, the Petrehns’ commercial balloon holds 105,000 cubic feet of air.

Using air power and little fuel, hot air ballooning is a nature-friendly form of travel.

“We combined our Earth Day activities that week and focused on how we can protect our environment,” Sluyter said. “Hot air ballooning is very protective of the environment and encourages outdoor activities.”