Firing up the Boiler on Oil

Here's the whole setup ready for firing - notice the sheets of insulation positioned ad hoc to protect the wheels from radiant heat (these proved not to be necessary) and to protect the machinery (these were necessary; the insulation at the burner end needs improvement):

Closeup of the oil burner driven by a small gasoline engine:

A generator for field electricity supply:

A small tank for supplying oil when the large tank in the towing vehicle is not connected:

So we fired it up, and a bit of smoke came out, but nothing frightening. After about twelve minutes the water started to boil!

Since the whole lot started off at about 10 degrees, so that each kilo of water would be expected to take about 90 kCal of heat to raise it to boiling, and there were about 800 kilos of water in all, plus about 100 kilos of water-equivalent heat capacity in the metal of the boiler, one would expect about 80 mCal of heat to be required to raise the entire lot to boiling. Nominally the burner consumes 50 kg of gasoil (diesel fuel, heating oil) per hour, thus 10 kg in 12 minutes. And burning one kg of gasoil nominally produces 11 mCal. Thus, allowing for a bit of loss and a moderate delay in recognition of the full boiling state (which is inevitable), the performance was by the book.

A simple adjustment of the air control screw eliminated the smoke:

And the whole setup continued to function effortlessly! We carried on for about an hour, topping up the water repeatedly, until it got dark.

You can download a short boil movie by clicking:

Here (1.45 MB)

And a longer one by clicking:

Here (5.96 MB)

Note: the server for this website is not RealPlayer-enabled. You should use your Windows Media Player to view these movies; or you may of course download and store them.


We measured how quickly the level of the water in the boiler dropped. It appeared that it took about 4 minutes to boil 50 kilos of water. Since the burner consumes about 3.3 kilos of fuel in 4 minutes, this means that one kilo of fuel is boiling about 15 kilos of water. Again by the book, allowing a certain amount for losses. (The theoretical maximum is 18).

After making a few improvements, during the next session in a few days, we shall test the flue gas temperature, and fiddle with the air settings further. We consider that this first trial can be considered a success. Actually the entire session was rather anticlimactic. No roaring volcano of smoke, no fire, no explosion, no holocaust, no casualties! Just copious steam flow...

We can now claim to be ready and able to provide the cheapest LTA lift gas in history (per newton of lift) - cheaper than hydrogen, helium, methane, or ammonia, and in fact even cheaper than hot air, since propane is much more expensive than gasoil.

Next you can read here about building the actual balloon envelope....

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