Lifting Gases

All gases that are lighter than the surrounding air can be used as a lifting gas for balloons.  If air is assigned a density of 1, the relative density of the lifting gas must me less than 1.  Lifting gases include:

  • Filling Gases – Hydrogen, Helium, Ammonia, Lighting Gas

  • Hot air that is heated with a burner

There are several gases that are used by gas balloonist.  The top three gases in the USA are Hydrogen, Helium and Ammonia.

  • Hydrogen  - Periodic Symbol (H2).  It is the lightest and most common element in the universe.  It almost never occurs in it’s elementary form.  It must be extracted from chemical combinations. 

Advantages:  Lowest density of all gases, cheap, commonly available.

Disadvantage: Flammable, Explosive when mixed with air.


  • Helium – (He) is a chemically inactive, inert gas.  It does not combine with other elements.  If it found in certain gas well in the United States. 

Advantages:  Non-flammable.  Lower loss through diffusion than       Hydrogen.

Disadvantages:  Non renewable, Rare and expensive


  • Coal Gas – Lighting Gas (lg).  Is a gas mixture in different compositions such as hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide.  It is produced in coking plants and gas plants.

 Advantages: None.  It is used a base value for balloon records.

Disadvantage:  Flammable, explosive, poisonous, Not readily available in some parts of the world due to better manufacturing processes.

  •  Ammonia (NH3)  is a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen.

            Advantages:   Low cost, readily available.

Disadvantage:  only ½ the lifting capability of Hydrogen or Helium, Poisonous to Humans, Caustic, Explosive, Water soluble.