Hurricane Irma Closes Aerophile at Disney Springs: The Science Behind the Scenes

The iconic balloon ride at Disney Springs is now closed due to approaching hurricane.  

Ahead of Irma's arrival, the Aerophile team (formerly Characters in Flighthave taken this landmark attraction out of service until further notice - but how is this done without deflating the balloon?

The main entrance sits quiet. When conditions are perfect the attraction can lift 20+ guests to a maximum height of 400 feet in the air. For obvious reasons, the strictest safety precautions will always be taken.

The main entrance sits quiet. When conditions are perfect the attraction can lift 20+ guests to a maximum height of 400 feet in the air. For obvious reasons, the strictest safety precautions will always be taken.

With the hurricane still days away, the Aerophile team have wasted no time in preparing the iconic balloon for the storm. In the photo below you can see a look at the netting that'll do just that.


The massive weather net is secured to the landing dock by anchor points, with safety lines extending past the base and outward to the furthest corners of the dock. See how the balloon has been lowered to the passenger basket? Cue up the "The Science Guy" theme song, cause now we're talking about physics! I promise it'll be short & sweet, just like Bill.. except he's actually really tall; like, 6' 1" tall.

Bill.. Bill.. Bill.. Bill..  #ScienceRules

Bill.. Bill.. Bill.. Bill..  #ScienceRules

Here's where the science comes into play and it's a little thing called "the center of gravity." It's how objects find balance and if you've ridden the balloon before, it's why the pilot instructs all the guests to spread around evenly in the basket before takeoff. A near perfect balance is needed for everything to fly smoothly, and it's not as easy as having the guests spread out. Every attachment point between balloon and nest has been calculated precisely to achieve a harmonious level of weight distribution. When the guests board, it throws off that balance. Spread them out around the nest of the basket.. and it realigns the center of gravity with the balloon allowing for a smooth takeoff.

If everyone clumped on one side, gravity would take hold and the lighter side would pitch upward while the heavier side would attempt to stay on the ground. Think of how a handheld grocery store basket works.


Normally when you're shopping, the first item placed in a basket throws off the balance. The next item usually gets placed on the opposite side to even the weight and in turn making it more comfortable for you to hold. That's what finding the center of gravity feels like. 

Thats the non-sciencey scientific explanation and how that whole deal operates. Securing the balloon to the ground has virtually the same effective technical usage of physics that keep it secured in the air, just reversed.

First they need to lower the center of gravity to keep it down - vs. when they enlarge the center of gravity to make it fly. The balloon is top-heavy; throw out the idea that it's a helium filled balloon because the area mass of the object is far greater than its base. #Science

To lower the center of gravity, first they need to make it short, then wide. You want to decrease the amount of drag, or wind resistance on the object - that's the goal.

  • Shrink it down: They lower the balloon "into" the basket. This reduces the greater range of movement and makes the general mass of the object more secure and manageable. 
  • Flattening it out: Deflation isn't the easiest option. To reinflate would be too costly, plus helium is a natural resource (no, it can't be man-made) and we're running low. According to Professor of Physics, Robert Richardson, our global supply is running low and he estimates we roughly have about 25-30 years worth of helium left at our current usage rate. BTW - he won the 1996 Nobel prize for his work on superfluidity in helium so he knows a thing or two about this subject. 

With deflation being impractical, they extend tethers outward to the far ends of the dock. This helps to stabilize and essentially eliminate the movement of the balloon. By achieving this system of having dozens of tie down points it renders the balloon and basket imobile. When powerful winds pick up, the stress and tension on the lines are distributed equally and the secured object lives on to float another day. There's more equations I could dive into, like how they determine the "length of" and "force on a tether that's attached to an object" but you get the idea.

Now that you're all caught up on the geeky science that plays into keeping the big balloon secure, it's a safe bet that you won't be seeing this flying anytime before Wednesday, Sept 13th. Once the hurricane passes and it's safe, Aerophile will be soaring once more.