A rooster, a duck, and sheep set sail in a hot air balloon…
Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s actually the beginning of manned flight. I know, none of those are people.
On September 19, 1783, French scientist Pilatre De Rozier launched the first hot air balloon with three unusual passengers, the aforementioned farmyard inhabitants. It stayed aloft for fifteen minutes before crashing back to earth. No data on the status of the poor critters. My first thought was, Why couldn’t De Rozier have used rocks? Then another source answered that. He wanted to see if animals—and by extension humans—could breathe at higher elevations. Apparently successful, because on October 15, 1783, he experimented on a human—himself—and rode his balloon high up into the air, well, as high as he could while moored to the ground by a rope.
A month after that, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier, French brothers, set sail untethered from Paris in their own hot air balloon on November 21, 1783. This first manned flight lasted for roughly twenty minutes before landing outside of Paris, birthing hot air ballooning.
In 1785, French balloonist Jean Pierre Blanchard and his American co-pilot Dr. John Jefferies flew a gas-powered balloon across the English Channel, making them the first people to achieve this feat. It was one of the longest balloon flights at the time. Later that year, De Rozier (of the farmyard animal fame) attempted this same trip with a hot air balloon and a hydrogen balloon tethered together. Sadly, his experimental design exploded, and he perished.
During the early 1800s, balloons became the main mode of air travel. (Was there another way to travel by air at this time?) Balloons became used not only for recreation but for military purposes and high-altitude scientific investigations, as well as transporting the mail, important individuals, and even carrier pigeons who would then do their homing trick and fly back to their roost.
During the US Civil War, Union officer General Fitz John Porter made an accidental balloon flight. (How does one “accidentally” take a balloon flight?) He decided to make aerial observations without the assigned expert to operate the craft. Porter only had one line, instead of four, tethering the balloon. The rope broke, and the general went sailing away, right over enemy territory. Thanks to a favorable wind change, he was neither captured nor killed but came safely back down over the Union line. However, like any good soldier, he succeeded in gaining the reconnaissance intelligence on the enemy’s defenses he was after.
The 1900s ushered in the airships. This large balloon supported by a frame could carry cargo and passengers for military and luxury travel. What started out great with the Van Zeppelin ended in 1937 when the Hindenburg went up in flames killing thirty-five people. The technology was deemed too dangerous and expensive to continue for any large scale use.
From the late 1700s to the 1950s, the hot air in balloons was replaced by gas, either helium or hydrogen, rendering the hot air version all but abandoned. Ed Yost redesigned the fueling system to be more maneuverable and could travel greater distances. On October 22, 1960, he launched the first modern hot air balloon. The flight lasted one hour and thirty-five minutes. Truly an innovation in balloon flight.
Though balloon flight was impractical and expensive, it did pave the way for other means of man rising above the terra firma. And with it mankind’s dreams took flight.
When I needed a hobby for my hero in The Lady's Mission, my critique partners suggested a hot air balloon. I wasn't keen on all the research that would be involved because I knew nothing, but my hero was already hooked.
THE LADY’S MISSION (Quilting Circle 5)
Will Cordelia abandon her calling for love? Cordelia Armstrong wants nothing more than to escape the social norms for her station in society. Unless she can skillfully maneuver her father into giving up control of her trust fund, she might have to concede defeat—as well as her freedom—and marry. Every time Lamar Kesner finds a fascinating lady, her heart belongs to another. When a vapid socialite is offered up as a prospective bride, he contemplates flying off in his hot air balloon instead. Is Lamar the one to finally break the determination of Cordelia’s parents to marry her off? Or will this charming bachelor fly away with her heart?
Available for pre-order on Amazon. (Releases October 5, 2022)
Videos that helped me learn how to fly a hot air balloon.
Fly & steer hot air balloon
How to fly a hot air balloon
My First Lesson in a Hot Air Bolloon
How do you control a hot ait balloon?