The question about hot-air balloons* got me thinking: What do you call their type of movement in English? In German it is not "fliegen" (flying) but "fahren" (shipping, possibly driving). What is it in English?

*: Balloons which are unpowered, without engines or propellers; they can only move up and down due to buoyancy changes (lifted by helium/hydrogen/hot air) and are otherwise at the mercy of the wind.

  • 1
    Just to clarify, you're talking about unpowered balloons that can only move up and down due to buoyancy changes, and are otherwise at the mercy of the wind? Blimps (non-rigid airships) and dirigibles/rigid airships have engines and propellers that give them limited horizontal movement and control, but are usually lifted by helium (or, until the Hindenburg, hydrogen).
    – Phil Perry
    Jun 17, 2014 at 15:58
  • @PhilPerry: Yes, you are right, I included it in the question.
    – Stephen
    Dec 22, 2015 at 9:29

2 Answers 2


There are a number of words you can choose here.

The balloons floated over the valley.

The balloons gently drifted over the trees.

As they released them, the balloons flew into the sky.

In the active sense, i.e. when the balloon is being directed, avoid the word drive, and prefer instead either the word pilot, fly or navigate:

The aviator took the controls and piloted the balloon through the storm.

The aviator took the controls and flew the balloon through the storm.

The aviator took the controls and navigated the balloon through the storm.

  • 2
    Hot air balloons are basically at the mercy of the prevailing wind, so "drifted" is probably the word of choice here. Upward motion is controlled by heating the air in the balloon, and down, either by not heating the air and hoping it cools off enough to sink to a lower level, or releasing air by opening a hatch in the top of the balloon -- which can usually be done exactly once, for landing. Different air "layers" can have air currents moving in different directions, which gives a skilled pilot limited ability to control the sideways direction by moving up or down into a different current. Feb 19, 2013 at 21:10
  • 1
    I like this answer, and I would personally choose "float" with "drift" as my second choice. I also like the sound of "The hot air balloon wafted through the air", but it's not something people say very often.
    – user230
    Feb 20, 2013 at 0:24
  • 3
    Although "waft" is usable, I would tend to use it more in the sense of something diffusing through the air (e.g., an odor), as opposed to a physical object [balloon] moving with the air.
    – Phil Perry
    Jun 25, 2014 at 13:59


Hot-air baloons float in air exactly the way bricks don't.

  • 4
    I like the Douglas Adams reference :)
    – Matt
    Feb 19, 2013 at 22:51
  • What about very small bricks?
    – msouth
    Jul 23, 2019 at 6:32

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