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History of Hot Air Ballooning

We owe it all to a sheep, a duck and a rooster?

First Hot Air Balloon Passengers Hints of the hot air balloon appear in many cultures. A fourteenth-century monk's manuscript from England speaks of goatskins flying in the air when placed near steam from soup. As far back as the Egyptians, there have been recorded experiments on the subject of hot air rising. However, the creation of this beautiful flying machine took an age of invention and two competitive Frenchmen.

The birth of air balloon flight came in the year 1782, with a discovery of two brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. Their discovery that hot air was lighter than cold air led to the making of a small silk balloon, which they subsequently elevated thirty-two meters in the air. Upon discovering that the hotter the air, the more a balloon rose, the two decided to give a public demonstration of their work in their home town of Annonay, France. They created a globe of 900 cubic meters of cotton spread over a cardboard fitting. Then they rigged up a boat of burning straw under the balloon to fill it with hot air. When it was hot enough, they cut the string attaching the balloon to the ground. It rose ten thousand meters into the air, before descending and exploding. News of their discovery was sent to the Science Academy of France.

Montgolfier Balloon The Mongolfier made a promise to their father never to fly their machine. So the privilege of trying out the balloon went to a duck, a sheep and a chicken. On the 19th of September, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers successfully launched a balloon, called 'Aerostat Reveillon', made from paper and cloth. To inflate the balloon they burned a combination of straw, chopped wool and dried horse manure underneath the balloon. As the straw burned it released heat that helped the balloon float. The wool and manure made lots of smoke and helped keep the burning flame low, which lessened the risk of the balloon catching fire. The brothers were far too nervous to try out their invention themselves so they sent up a sheep, a duck and a rooster to see what happened.

After eight minutes of flying, witnessed by the entire Science Academy and Louis XVI himself, the animals were still alive. Louis XVI was quite skeptical about the success of a flying mission, but he nonetheless allowed Pilatre Rosier, a native of Lourdes, to attempt a flight with a passenger. Their flight over Paris lasted 28 minutes, during which both men fed a fire placed in the middle of their partitioned basket.

This discovery won the brothers nobility, and a legacy of flying balloons. A competition rose up between Pilatre and the brothers as to who could fly the highest. Balloons became bigger. There was a recorded twelve cats sent into the air over Paris at one point for a hydrogen-fueled balloon experiment. The idea of crossing the English Channel, an inevitable goal, rose up as the ultimate challenge. A man named Blanchard flew from England to France and completed the challenge from the English side. The challenge of the longer route, from France to England, still remained. In 1785, Pilatre attempted this flight and died, his balloon burning under him into the Channel. The reason for his flammable end was a small bag of hydrogen that he attached to his basket, near the flames for the larger hot air balloon. This event marked a downfall of popularity for the hot air balloon, and an increase in popularity, ironically, in hydrogen.

Now a large jump in time, of over 100 years: In August of 1932 Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard was the first to achieve a manned flight to the Stratosphere. He reached a height of 52,498 feet, setting the new altitude record. Over the next couple of years, altitude records continued to be set and broken every couple of months - the race was on to see who would reach the highest point.

In 1935 a new altitude record was set and it remained at this level for the next 20 years. The balloon Explorer 2, a gas helium model reached an altitude of 72,395 feet (13.7 miles)! For the first time in history, it was proven that humans could survive in a pressurized chamber at extremely high altitudes. This flight set a milestone for aviation and helped pave the way for future space travel.

The Altitude record was set again in 1960 when Captain Joe Kittinger parachute jumped from a balloon that was at a height of 102,000 feet. The balloon broke the altitude record and Captain Kittinger, the high altitude parachute jump record. He broke the sound barrier with his body!