Sky Endeavors |Rides | Promotions | Sales | Photos | Costen Cultural Home

In 1960 the evolution of the hot air balloon flared in one bright burst after 177 years of virtually static advancement. Since brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier launched the first unmanned hot air balloon in France in 1783, comparatively little progress had been made in ballooning. But that all changed in October of 1960 when some imaginative people launched the first manned hot air balloon flight with a continuous burner source and petroleum fuel -- the birth of the modern day balloon system.

The curious, imaginative and creative people responsible for this metamorphosis in hot air ballooning were from a fledging company founded only four years earlier named Raven Industries. Located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Raven Industries was formed by a small group of aeronautical researchers who had all been working for a division of General Mills that was dedicated to the scientific balloon business. The primary purpose of the new company was to supply plastic products to the agricultural market. But the fascination and passion of ballooning compelled the founders to keep alive a second purpose: that of entering into the scientific balloon industry utilizing the imagination and innovation by which they would come to be defined.

Initially, Raven Industries’ balloon business consisted of offering a free research balloon to the US Navy on a trial basis. That wild shot struck its mark and Raven Industries found itself producing a line of polyethylene high-altitude balloons used for research in the near space environment of 100,000 to 150,000 foot altitudes. Such high altitude balloons with capsules carrying mice, monkeys and even cosmic ray measuring devices served as a key proving ground for establishing man’s compatibility in space.

After 1960, with the revolution in hot air ballooning having taken place, Raven engineers continued to single-handedly create the cutting edge. Burner development, fuel supply, envelope materials and flight characteristics were perpetually and obsessively researched and designed. Which perhaps explains why the hot air balloon basket didn’t appear until 1963. In those early years, the tug of war between man-controlling-the-balloon and the balloon-controlling-man dominated the high spirited (and sometimes hilarious) development of the modern hot air balloon.

Early hot air balloon sales were made exclusively to the government for military and research applications. But by the mid 1960s some adventuresome folks outside of the ranks of Raven Industries employees began buying the balloons for recreation and sport. The potential of recreational ballooning seemed obvious, so Raven engineers set about meeting and, in many ways, defining conformance requirements for obtaining an FAA Type Certificate for a hot air balloon aircraft. The FAA issued Type Certificate #A15CE for Raven model S-50A in 1968. From that moment through the mid 1970s a tremendous growth in private balloon purchases unfolded.

"Hand in hand with this growth was an upswing in what had already been continuous advancement in ballooning technology by Raven engineers. Burner output grew exponentially (to the point where now "30,000,000 BTU" burners are the norm at Aerostar). Means of deflation and maneuvering experienced dramatic progression (and even now Aerostar has eclipsed the then revolutionary Rip Top with our advanced deflation options of the Spring Top™, Parachute Top, Para-Rip Top and AeroChute™). And the old-world craftsmanship of the beautiful and eminently practical wicker basket first established its omnipresence in ballooning at this time (today’s Aerostar baskets remain traditional in their hand-woven wicker workmanship, but have advanced greatly in the multitude of models, colorful wicker accents, lush padded Cordura, and leather detailing are now offered)."

Ballooning and Raven both continued to expand through the end of the decade and on into the 1980s. When in 1980 Raven became the first South Dakota corporation to be listed on the American Stock Exchange, the company found itself growing more successful -- and more diverse. Made up of successful divisions producing everything from electronics to ski clothing (all of which were born from balloon research), Raven Industries chose to create a new wholly owned subsidiary titled Aerostar International, Inc.

On February 1, 1986 Aerostar was born with the completed transfer of Raven Industries’ type certificates, production certificates and maintenance certificate. With their newfound, full-time focus on ballooning, the former employees of the Raven hot air balloon department enjoyed a freedom to concentrate completely on our ballooning products. The results over subsequent years, while solidly in the Raven tradition of technological advancement and esthetic changes, have arguably surpassed the pace set by Raven while it invented an industry.

The accomplishments and advancements have been continuous, diverse and so numerous it would be impossible to list them all. Examples, from the list run the entire gamut of the unique and enthralling business of building hot air balloons: Wireless instrumentation. Flexi-rigid upright systems, continued refinements in product testing, exclusive fabrics manufactured specifically for the rigorous application of ballooning, and taking the most complex ideas for special shape hot air balloons from the imagination of the sketch pad to the reality of the sky.

The future of ballooning remains to be written, but we see only increased potential for technological advance, increased safety and enhanced enjoyment of ballooning. Aerostar International, supported by the tradition and resources of Raven Industries, looks to the next millennium -- and to the skies -- with an eagerness borne of experience, and a smile borne of the childlike wonder that flight has forever inspired.

For further information contact:
Bill Costen – Phone: (860) 242-0228 – Email:



Copyright ©2005 Costen Cultural Exhibit / Sky Endeavors
Page Updated January 19, 2008