I have read these questions:

Hot air balloon trajectory predictions

Do atmospheric physics prevent hot air balloons from ascending over 60,000ft?

What is precisely the reason that a helium balloon ascends?

I have read that hot air balloons can just fly 11 miles up, while helium ones can go much higher.

I do not know whether hot air rises, as long as there is atmosphere.

Helium is one of the lightest gases, so it rises too.

The density for air is : 1.29 kg/m3

The density for helium is : 0.178 kg/m3

I have found a calculator for hot air density.


It says that the density of hot air reaches the density of helium at 1700C.

None of these questions said why hot air balloons can't fly higher then 11 miles.


  1. Why can't hot air balloons fly higher then helium balloons?
  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing if you put the actual numbers for the density of hot air balloons (which btw are no where near 1700C) you can find where they land on the density of air vs height $\endgroup$
    – KF Gauss
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 23:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Nylon ignites at 400C. Steel melts at 1510C. Heating your hot-air balloon to 1700C is a really, really, bad idea. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 0:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @PeterShor: As the Fifth Dimension sang: "Up, up and away in my red-hot vanadium balloon" $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


Although it is pretty obvious that helium balloons should be able to rise higher than hot air balloons due to much lower molecular weight of helium vs air, it could be still informative to look at how they rise and why they stop rising.

Both helium and hot air balloons rise because the lifting force, equal to the weight of air displaced by a balloon, exceeds the weight of the balloon (including the gas, helium or hot air, inside the balloon).

Both helium and hot air balloons stop rising because the density of air is decreasing with altitude and, with it, the lifting force. This is not the case with water, which has practically the same density at different depth levels and therefore keeps pushing objects less dense than water all the way up to the surface.

For helium balloons, this drop in density with altitude is partially compensated by the expansion of their volume, but still, at some altitude the weight will exceed the lifting force.

For hot air balloons the drop in density could be partially compensated by expelling more and more air, which could be achieved by raising the temperature in the balloon to progressively higher levels. But, again, at some point the weight of the balloon will exceed the lifting force.

So, even if the weight of the gas inside a balloon was zero, there would be a limit due to the finite weight of the balloon itself and the payload. This limit is lower for hot air balloons because they tend to weigh more and because, at any given pressure level, the density of helium will be lower than the density of hot air (for any practical temperature) and therefore helium balloons will have a greater lifting force for the same volume ($(\rho_{out}-\rho_{in})\times V$).

  • $\begingroup$ even if the weight of the gas inside a balloon was zero Like for en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_airship $\endgroup$
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @CriglCragl Looks like it has best performance in fiction. $\endgroup$
    – V.F.
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ If you replace a mole of air with a mole of helium, you get about 12gm of lift not matter what altitude you’re at. The issue is how far an equal-pressure balloon can expand before it can no longer contain the volume of gas. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2019 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ now if you combine the two and make a hot helium ship (filled with not just regular helium, but really hot helium) then you'd get a tiny bit more lift. Maybe almost enough to offset the cost of heating elements and power source... just maybe. $\endgroup$
    – Emre
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 15:04

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