Tethered balloon

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Tethered balloons can carry instruments and sensors for long durations that are impractical for other aircraft.
The DHL Balloon manufactured by Aerophile is the world's largest tethered helium balloon with 30 passengers on board
Tethered ballon from below

A tethered balloon is a balloon that is restrained by a cable attached to the ground or a vehicle and so cannot float freely. The tether is attached to a winch which is used to raise and lower the balloon.

A balloon is a form of aerostat, along with the powered free-flying airship, although the American GAO has used the term "aerostat" to describe a tethered balloon in contrast to the airship.[1]

Tethered balloons have been used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Observation balloons
  • Barrage balloons
  • Advertising and other graphical displays
  • Instrumentation or communications equipment platforms, for civil or military use
  • Recreational flights

Design principles[edit]

A tethered balloon may take any of three basic forms:

  • An elongated (airship or blimp-shaped) balloon with fins at one end to stabilise it so that it always points into the wind.
  • A simple round balloon, without stabilisation.
  • A hybrid tethered balloon or kytoon uses a combination of aerostatic buoyancy and aerodynamic lift similar to a kite.


Designed by Albert Caquot, French engineer, in 1914, the barrage balloons of World War I and World War II were early examples of tethered balloons. Military observation balloons were also used extensively in World War I. These early types used hydrogen as their lifting gas.

Today, tethered balloons are used for lifting cameras, radio antennas, electro-optical sensors, radio-relay equipment and advertising banners - often for long durations. Tethered balloons are also used for position marking and bird control work. Typically, they use the non-flammable gas helium to provide lift.

Modern use[edit]


Tethered balloons are often used for advertising, either by lifting advertisement signs, or by using a balloon with advertisements written on, or attached to it. Often both methods are combined. It is not uncommon to use specially designed balloons. Blimp-shaped balloons are especially popular for advertising use. By suspending a light source within the envelope, the balloon can be illuminated at night, drawing attention to its message.

Balloon Soundings[edit]

During the project of the Preliminary Evaluation of Air Quality in Cyprus, a tethered balloon from the University of Stuttgart was used in Nicosia and Limassol, in 2003.The results concerning this part of the project are given in the report published in the Air Quality in Cyprus.

Civil aviation[edit]

The United States Geological Survey uses tethered balloons to carry equipment to places where conventional aircraft cannot go, such as above an erupting volcano. Tethered balloons are ideal as they can easily remain more or less in one place, are less likely to be damaged by volcanic ash, and are less expensive to operate than a helicopter.[citation needed]

Tethered balloons can be used as temporary transmitters, instead of a radio mast, either by using the tether which holds the balloon as the antenna, or by carrying antennas on the balloon fed by a fiber optic or radio frequency cable contained inside the tether. The advantage of tethered balloons is that great antenna heights are easily realizable and they can stay aloft for months.[citation needed]

Tethered balloons are also used as a recreational attraction and for joyrides.

An Aerophile SAS tethered helium balloon in Great Park, California.
A tethered helium balloon on the ground, At Montecasino South Africa.

Military and security aviation[edit]

During the 1990 Invasion of Kuwait, the first indication of the Iraqi ground advance was from a radar-equipped tethered balloon that detected Iraqi armor and air assets moving south.[2] Surveillance tethered balloons were used in the 2004 American occupation of Iraq. They utilized a high-tech optics system to detect and observe enemies from miles away. They have been used to over watch foot patrols and convoys in Baghdad, Afghanistan, and are permanently installed above US military bases in Kabul and Bagram.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has contracted with Lockheed Martin to operate a series of radar-equipped tethered balloons to detect low-flying aircraft attempting to enter the United States. A total of twelve tethered balloons, called Tethered Aerostat Radar System, are positioned approximately 350 miles apart, from California to Florida to Puerto Rico, providing unbroken radar coverage along the entire southern border of the US.[3]

The U.S. Army has developed a tethered aerostat to perform operational testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground beginning in 2015. The system, called JLENS, uses two moored balloons designed to provide over-the-horizon missile defense capability.

See also[edit]

List of manufacturers[edit]