The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) loves a good air flight – that should be without question. But you don’t always associate the flyboys with hot air balloons – until today.
The RAAF already has two custom hot air balloons and have just announced they are seeking a third – tendering their offer for “procurement of a hot air balloon system” in the $100,000 range, and its coming from a Public Relations budget. That sounds like chicken feed compared to the price of the faster and more battle ready Joint Strike Fighter costing approximately $200 million so far.
This aircraft will find its home in East Sale, Victoria at the RAAF’s Central Flying School. As you might have guessed, the balloon is not a battle craft, but instead will function along with the other two already owned by the RAAF as public relations vehicles for the Defense Department.
The balloon and its crew will likely spend time on the road visiting schools, especially rural schools as an educational tool with the children, and possibly as a long-range plan in one of its other missions – recruitment. One of the balloons already in service frequently flies the skies around Canberra during the early morning – usually the best time for flying hot air balloons. The basic cost for a hot air balloon system runs as low as $30,000, but the RAAF’s balloon will have custom logos and special equipment bringing it to the $100,000 estimated price.
A century ago hydrogen balloons were the newest thing in stealth surveillance and continued being used by the Japanese for sending bombs to North America across the Pacific Ocean during WWII. They may no longer see battle, but when they visit rural schools, the crew enjoy a satisfaction they would never know in other situations. The children and faculty alike are often amazed to be included in the tours, leaving a lasting impression on young hearts across Australia.
They don’t travel at the F-35’s top speed of 1,930 kilometers (1,200 miles) per hour. But unlike the Joint Strike Fighter with its many budget cost increases and development delays, it won’t require a $400,000 pilot’s helmet either. In comparison, the balloon is petty cash.
But if you are wondering about the first Joint Strike Fighters arrival, they should land in Australia in 2018, and begin active duty service in 2020. If you’d like to learn more about these balloons, visit their Facebook page.