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The Oldest Form of Aviation: The Hot Air Balloon

Updated on July 28, 2020
1783  First Hot Air Balloon Flight
1783 First Hot Air Balloon Flight | Source
The French King XIV Witnessing Flight
The French King XIV Witnessing Flight
The Montgolfer Brothers 1783
The Montgolfer Brothers 1783 | Source

The Beginning of Aviation 1783

The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Jacques, were prosperous paper manufactures, and they devised and built their hot air balloon made of silk and lined with paper. Their balloon measured 33 feet in diameter. Although the balloon rose between 5200-6600 feet and lasted only ten minutes, it created a thrill for King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, along with the 130,000 crowds gazing in amazement.

Early hot air balloons were made of silk and extremely expensive. The fuel used at that time was a combination of burned straw, chopped wood, and horse manure. Not only dangerous, but the smell would be nauseous. During the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s, hot air balloons were extremely useful for surveillance. Today, the balloons are made of nylon, or Nomax, which is a fire retardant material, and the fuel is now helium or propane. The Gondola was usually made of bamboo weaved together, lightweight but sturdy.

Hot air balloons were making news, and soon competition by 'aviators' were striving to be the first swelling the scientists rushing to set aviation records.

It wasn't long before America was to have their first hot air balloon flight. In 1793, Jean Pierre Blanchard flew from Philadelphia to Gloucester, New Jersey.

Fast Forward to 20th and 21st Centuries of Highlights of Hot Air Balloons

Its been over two hundred years since the first hot air balloon was launched, and today, we can enjoy hot air balloon rides, festivals, and take advantage of the weather balloons for necessary information.

Many firsts have been made since the inception of 'flying.' The daring and brave men who paved the way for aviation gave us a look into the future. They would probably be amazed at how far progress has been made.

Here are some highlights of the beginning of aviation

  • 1931 In May, Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer took off from Augsburg, Germany, and reached an altitude of 51,775 (9.8 miles). This flight made them the first humans to enter the stratosphere and the first to visually observe the curvature of the Earth. They made two other attempts reaching a final record of 75,459 feet.
  • 1937 Piccard's interest now shifted to the deep sea, and he designed and built a bathyscaphe to dive the deep sea. Things were put on hold during WWII, but in 1945, Piccard and his son dove a record of 10,335 feet.
  • 1960 Captain Jack Kittinger parachuted from a hot air balloon at 102,000 feet. This set a record for a balloon flight, and Kittinger broke the sound barrier with his body!
  • 1973 The First Balloon World Championship was held in Albuquerque, N.M
  • 1978 The first Transatlantic helium/gas balloon flight from Maine to France by Ben Abruzzo, May L. Anderson, and Larry Nelson, record 137 hrs., 6 min, for 3108 miles.
  • 1987 First Transatlantic hot air balloon flight by Sir Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand flying The Atlantic Flyer. It was the largest balloon measuring 2.3 million cubic feet with speeds over 130 mph, taking 33 hours
  • 1999 The First Round the World helium/hot air flight by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes
  • 2002 The First Solo Round the World helium/hot air flight by American Steve Fossett, the Spirit of Freedom, 13 days, 22,100 miles
  • 2005 The First Female Altitude Attempt by Lindsay Muir but turbulence and high winds forced a failed attempt
  • 2005 The World High Altitude set by Vijaypat Singhania reached 69,850 from Bombay, India landed 150 miles away in Panchali
  • 2011 The largest Mass Balloon Assent of 329 balloons as they set off from Lorraine Mondial, France.
  • 2020 NASA announces the plan to build the largest balloon, the size of a football field to study the stratosphere 24 miles from Earth's surface to study how stars and planets are formed. The expedition will take 3-4 weeks with special infrared telescopes called ASTHROS, an acronym for Atrophsies Stratospheric Telescope for High-Speed Resolution Observation. It is set to depart on 12/2023.

1999 First Round the World
1999 First Round the World
First Solo Around the World Spirit of Freedom
First Solo Around the World Spirit of Freedom
2011 Mass Balloon Assent
2011 Mass Balloon Assent
NASA Project to study Stars and Planets
NASA Project to study Stars and Planets
Altitude Scale
Altitude Scale

Weather Balloons and Festivals

Weather balloons are essential for the information provided to National Weather Service. They measure temperature, pressure, and humidity. The balloons are launched in over 900 locations around the world twice daily. They are made from latex or synthetic rubber. The public is asked to return them if found as they can be reused.

The largest Hot Air Balloon Festival is held every year in Albuquerque, N. Mexico, with hundreds of balloons taking flight. It is such a colorful sight for balloon enthusiasts.

Weather Balloon
Weather Balloon
Weather Ballon
Weather Ballon

Comments

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    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      12 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Linda, thank you for your comments. There are hot air balloon festivals all over and a really good one in Oregon. Many cancelled this year due to the virus. I hope you get to see one because they are awesome.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing these interesting facts, Fran. I'd love to attend a hot air balloon festival. I accidentally saw part of one many years ago. It was the Bristol one that Liz mentioned. The balloons flew over my aunt's house while my family was visiting her. I remember my aunt jokingly calling up to the riders. I'd love to see a modern festival.

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      12 months ago

      Fran, a new article, Part-20 for my story series, "Keily, the Bookworm" is now published. Please read it and leave your valuable feedback. Here is the link:

      https://letterpile.com/serializations/Keily-the-Bo...

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      12 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I bet it's exciting to take a ride.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      12 months ago from Singapore

      This is a thought-provoking article. The balloon was one step on the path to aviation and the fixed-wing flight. I have traveled in hot air balloon in Dubai and it's quite exhilarating and has its own charm but that's about all, it can't be used the way the earlier planners thought of long-range travel with it.A short holiday trip up in the sky can be exhilarating.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      12 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for your comments. I believe Bertrand was Auguste's grandson. Today, there are hot air balloon festivals and I hope you enjoy them.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      12 months ago from UK

      This is a fascinating article. Were Auguste and Bertrand Piccard related? In the UK there is usually an annual balloon festival in Bristol. I have heard of people taking a hot air balloon excursion to see sunrise over the pyramids in Egypt.

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      12 months ago

      Nice to know about the history of hot air balloons starting from the 18th century gradually towards and until the 21st century. Great write, Fran.

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