Airship and Blimp Resources The Reference on Airships 

Balloon Flight Instruments

Legally Required Instruments:

Altimeter, Variometer, Envelope Temperature and Fuel Quantity Gauge are legally required in most countries.


Flytec instruments are made in Switzerland. The 3040 Balloon Instrument offers a wireless sensor to measure envelope temperature in addition to standard altimeter and vario functions. After several years of development, the 3040 is now available in a FCC certified version for use in the USA, in addition to the original European version. (I use the 3040 in my own balloon and believe it is the best balloon instrument package available today.)


Swiss made high-tech balloon instruments with gondola mounted infrared temperature sensor. Both ACT 5000 and ACT 8000 offer more special functions than you would ever want, including memorisation of data for the last 20 flights. The ACT 8000 also has a barograph function.

Blue Sky Avionics(formerly Ball Variometers):

Ball's M-55 is a combination altimeter/variometer with a remote envelope temperature probe. The M-55 is not available for direct purchase. Ball functions as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for the M-55, which is then certified together with an individual balloon by its manufacturer. In 2000, Ball also introduced the M-57, a fully digital balloon instrument package that adds a GPS interface and flight review and mapping functions when connected to a Windows PC.

Entry Level Variometers:

This table compares the technical data of various basic electronic vario/alti combinations.

Homebuilt Pyrometers:

A few builders have designed their own electronic envelope temperature measurement systems.

Handheld Radios:

Most balloonists and airshippers use handheld aviation radios to communicate with their ground crew, other aircraft and air traffic control (ATC). ICOM America makes my favorite handheld transceiver, the A-3 (A-3E in Europe).


A transponder (actually, an encoding altimeter with a 2644 code transponder) is an instrument which transmits your flight altitude to a control tower's radar for routing and collision avoidance purposes. Unless a special waiver has been obtained, a transponder is required in certain controlled airspace (Classes A, B and C). At least in the USA, most balloonists don't fly with transponders since there is plenty of uncontrolled airspace. In Europe, transponders are becoming more and more of necessity. Some light weight transponders are available but most are fairly heavy. I don't know of any experimental hot air balloons using a transponder.

Warning! Materials and ideas listed here are in part unproven and may be hazardous to use in the construction of experimental hot air balloons and airships. Building and flying experimental aircraft involves significant risk and may lead to serious injury or death. Always obtain professional advice when building or flying human-carrying balloons and airships!

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