History of ballooning
The history of ballooning, both with hot air and gas, spans many centuries. It includes many firsts, including the first human flight, first flight across the English Channel, first flight in North America, and first aircraft related disaster.
- 1 Premodern and unmanned balloons
- 2 First hydrogen balloon
- 3 First unmanned flight
- 4 First manned flight
- 5 First manned hydrogen balloon flight
- 6 Further milestones
- 7 Ballooning in the British Isles
- 8 Military use
- 9 20th century
- 10 Modern day
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Premodern and unmanned balloons
Unmanned hot air balloons are popular in Chinese history. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, in the Three Kingdoms era (220-280 AD) used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known as Kongming lanterns (孔明灯).
It has been demonstrated that manned hot air balloons can be built using ancient materials. While there is no direct documentary or archaeological evidence that any manned or unmanned flights prior to those discussed below occurred using these methods, Ege notes an indirect report of evidence that the Chinese "solved the problem of aerial navigation" using balloons, hundreds of years before the 18th century.
The first documented balloon flight in Europe was by the Brazilian priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão. On August 8, 1709, in Lisbon, Bartolomeu de Gusmão managed to lift a small balloon made of paper full of hot air about four meters in front of king John V and the Portuguese court. According to the Portuguese speaking community, this was the "earliest recorded model balloon flight". However, this claim is not generally recognized by aviation historians outside the Portuguese speaking community, in particular the FAI.
First hydrogen balloon
Following Henry Cavendish's 1766 work on hydrogen, and Robert Boyle's Boyle's Law which was published 100 years earlier in 1662, Joseph Black proposed that a balloon filled with hydrogen would be able to rise in the air. Professor Jacques Charles, having studied the work of Cavendish, Black and Tiberius Cavallo, conceived the idea that hydrogen would be a suitable lifting agent for balloons.
Jacques Charles designed the hydrogen balloon, and the Robert brothers invented the methodology for constructing the lightweight, airtight gas bag. They dissolved rubber in a solution of turpentine and varnished the sheets of silk that were stitched together to make the main envelope. They used alternate strips of red and white silk, but the discolouration of the varnishing/rubberising process left a red and yellow result.
Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers launched their balloon, the world's first hydrogen-filled balloon, on August 27, 1783, from the Champ de Mars (now the site of the Eiffel Tower); Benjamin Franklin was among the crowd of onlookers. The balloon was comparatively small, a 35 cubic metre sphere of rubberised silk, and only capable of lifting about 9 kg. It was filled with hydrogen that had been made by pouring nearly a quarter of a tonne of sulphuric acid onto half a tonne of scrap iron. The hydrogen gas was fed into the envelope via lead pipes; but as it was not passed through cold water, great difficulty was experienced in filling the balloon completely (the gas was hot when produced, but as it cooled in the balloon, it contracted). Daily progress bulletins were issued on the inflation; and the crowd was so great that on the 26th the balloon was moved secretly by night to the Champ de Mars, a distance of 4 kilometres.
The balloon flew northwards for 45 minutes, pursued by chasers on horseback, and landed 21 kilometres away in the village of Gonesse where the reportedly terrified local peasants attacked it with pitchforks or knives and destroyed it. The project was funded by a subscription organised by Barthélémy Faujas de Saint-Fond.
First unmanned flight
On 19 September 1783, the Montgolfier brothers' balloon Aerostat Réveillon was flown with the first (non-human) living creatures in a basket attached to the balloon: a sheep called Montauciel ("Climb-to-the-sky"), a duck and a rooster. The sheep was believed to have a reasonable approximation of human physiology. The duck was expected to be unharmed by being lifted aloft. It was included as a control for effects created by the aircraft rather than the altitude. The rooster was included as a further control as it was a bird that did not fly at high altitudes. This demonstration was performed before a crowd at the royal palace in Versailles, before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. The flight lasted approximately eight minutes, covered two miles (3 km), and obtained an altitude of about 1,500 feet (460 m). The craft landed safely after flying.
First manned flight
The first clearly recorded instance of a balloon carrying (human) passengers used hot air to generate buoyancy and was built by the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier in Annonay, France. These brothers came from a family of paper manufacturers and had noticed ash rising in paper fires. The Montgolfier brothers gave their first public demonstration of their invention on June 4, 1783. After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first tethered balloon flight with humans on board took place on October 19, 1783 with the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, the manufacture manager, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and Giroud de Villette, at the Folie Titon in Paris.
The first untethered, free flight with human passengers was on 21 November 1783. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots, but de Rozier, along with the Marquis François d'Arlandes, successfully petitioned for the honor. For this occasion the diameter of the balloon rose to almost 50 feet with a smoky fire slung under the neck of the balloon placed in an iron basket, it was controllable and replenishable by the balloonists. In 25 minutes the two men traveled just over five miles. Enough fuel remained on board at the end of the flight to have allowed the balloon to fly four to five times as far, but burning embers from the fire threatened to engulf the balloon and the men decided to land as soon as they were over open countryside.
The pioneering work of the Montgolfier brothers in developing the hot air balloon was recognised by this type of balloon being named Montgolfière after them.
First manned hydrogen balloon flight
Only a few days later, at 13:45 on December 1, 1783, professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers (Les Frères Robert) launched a new, manned hydrogen balloon from the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, amid vast crowds and excitement. The balloon was held on ropes and led to its final launch place by four of the leading noblemen in France, the Marechal de Richelieu, Marshal de Biron, the Bailli de Suffren, and the Duke of Chaulnes. Jacques Charles was accompanied by Nicolas-Louis Robert as co-pilot of the 380-cubic-metre, hydrogen-filled balloon. The envelope was fitted with a hydrogen release valve, and was covered with a net from which the basket was suspended. Sand ballast was used to control altitude. They ascended to a height of about 1,800 feet (550 m) and landed at sunset in Nesles-la-Vallée after a flight of 2 hours and 5 minutes, covering 36 km. The chasers on horseback, who were led by the Duc de Chartres, held down the craft while both Charles and Robert alighted.
Charles then decided to ascend again, but alone this time because the balloon had lost some of its hydrogen. This time he ascended rapidly to an altitude of about 3,000 metres), where he saw the sun again. He began suffering from aching pain in his ears so he 'valved' to release gas, and descended to land gently about 3 km away at Tour du Lay. Unlike the Robert brothers, Charles never flew again, although a balloon using hydrogen for its lift came to be called a Charlière in his honour.
Charles and Robert carried a barometer and a thermometer to measure the pressure and the temperature of the air, making this not only the first manned hydrogen balloon flight, but also the first balloon flight to provide meteorological measurements of the atmosphere above the Earth's surface.
It is reported that 400,000 spectators witnessed the launch, and that hundreds had paid one crown each to help finance the construction and receive access to a 'special enclosure' for a "close-up view" of the take-off. Among the 'special enclosure' crowd was Benjamin Franklin, the diplomatic representative of the United States of America. Also present was Joseph Montgolfier, whom Charles honoured by asking him to release the small, bright green, pilot balloon to assess the wind and weather conditions.
The first aircraft disaster occurred in May 1785 when the town of Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland was seriously damaged when the crash of a balloon resulted in a fire that burned down about 100 houses, making the town home to the world's first aviation disaster. To this day, the town shield depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Blanchard went on to make the first manned flight of a balloon in America on January 10, 1793. His hydrogen-filled balloon took off from a prison yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The flight reached 5,800 feet (1,770 m) and landed in Gloucester County, New Jersey. President George Washington was among the guests observing the takeoff.
Gas balloons became the most common type from the 1790s until the 1960s.
The first steerable balloon (also known as a dirigible) was flown by Henri Giffard in 1852. Powered by a steam engine, it was too slow to be effective. Like heavier than air flight, the internal combustion engine made dirigibles—especially blimps—practical, starting in the late 19th century. In 1872 Paul Haenlein flew the first (tethered) internal combustion motor-powered balloon. The first to fly in an untethered airship powered by an internal combustion engine was Alberto Santos Dumont in 1898.
Henri Giffard also developed a tethered balloon for passengers in 1878 in the Tuileries Garden in Paris.
|Events in the early history of ballooning; collecting cards from the late 19th century.|
Ballooning in the British Isles
Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Jeffries flew from Dover to Calais in 1785.
In the same year, a Mr Arnold went up from St Georges Fields (London), but came down in the River Thames, and a Major John Money (1752–1817) took off from Norwich, in an attempt to raise money for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. He passed over Lowestoft at 6pm and came down about 18 miles (29 km) into the North Sea and was saved by a revenue cutter about five hours later.
James Sadler made many flights in England, but on 9 October 1812 he came down in the sea and was rescued near Holyhead. His son, Windham Sadler was killed when he fell from a balloon in 1825. Lieutenant Harris was killed falling from a balloon on 25 May 1824.
Charles Green and others made a number of ascents in London between 1821 and 1852. His first ascent was on July 19, 1821. He claimed that in May 1828 he actually took his horse up with him but this was disputed, and the public had to wait until July 1850 when he lifted off from Vauxhall Gardens with a somewhat diminutive pony as his "steed". Further attempts were made in France until Madame Poitevin took off from Cremorne Gardens in London in August 1852, as "Europa on a Bull" (the bull dressed as rather a nervous "Zeus")  but this led to a charge of cruelty to animals, a police case, a diplomatic dilemma and general public outrage after which no animals were used.
In 1836, the “Royal Vauxhall” balloon which was used as a pleasure balloon in Vauxhall Gardens was used by Charles Green with two crew and after 18 hours came down safely at Weilburg in the German Duchy of Nassau, setting a record unbeaten until 1907.
Robert Cocking, an artist, devised a parachute based upon Garnerin’s prototype (in which he had great faith) and ascended in a balloon from Vauxhall (London) on 24 July 1837 to about 1500m. The parachute failed to open properly and Cocking was killed.
The first military use of aircraft in Europe took place during the French Revolutionary Wars, when the French used a tethered hydrogen balloon to observe the movements of the Austrian army during the Battle of Fleurus (1794).
In 1811 Franz Leppich went to Napoleon and claimed that he could build a hydrogen balloon that would enable the French to attack from the air. Napoleon then ordered that he be removed from French Territory. In 1812 the secret service from Russia got Leppich Passports with the name Schmidt and then he and a secret undercover person went to Moscow to Count Rostopchin. Near Moscow a "Werft" was set up and with about 50 other German-speaking mechanics, and he started to build "air bouts". When the balloon was finally tried out, they worked but were unable to move against the wind . Leppich did final work after the burning of Moscow, on this about a year longer near St. Petersburg and then he left for Germany again. There he worked on the subject up to 1817. In 1818 he received a patent in his and his brothers name in Vienna for making nails with a punch.
In Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace, Count Pyótr Kiríllovich Bezúkhov (Pierre) makes an excursion to see this balloon though he does not see it. Tolstoy also includes a letter from the sovereign Emperor Alexander I to Count Rostopchin concerning the balloon.
Hot air balloons were employed during the American Civil War. The military balloons used by the Union Army Balloon Corps under the command of Prof. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe were limp silk envelopes inflated with coal gas (town gas) or hydrogen.
During World War II, a large number of barrage balloons were inflated over the city of London in an effort to obstruct Luftwaffe air attacks during the Battle of Britain. Whatever their effectiveness, they were a cheap defense but did not stop heavy damage inflicted on Londoners during the Blitz, probably because the Heinkel He 111 bombers flew too high. Nonetheless, some 231 V-1 flying bombs were destroyed.
In the early and mid-20th century, hydrogen balloons were used extensively in upper-atmosphere research in such projects as Osoaviakhim-1, the Stratobowl launches, Project Manhigh, and Project Strato-Lab. A series of ascensions set a number of high-altitude records before space flight eclipsed ballooning as an endeavor. When governments lost interest in manned balloons, private citizens continued to strive to set records, especially for long distances, and to achieve "first" marks (such as Double Eagle II (first to cross the Atlantic Ocean) and Breitling Orbiter 3 (first to circumnavigate the world).
Modern hot air balloons, with a more sophisticated onboard heat source than the Montgoflier brothers' basket of hot coals, were pioneered by Ed Yost beginning in the 1950s which resulted in his first successful flight on October 22, 1960. The first modern day hot air balloon to be built in the United Kingdom (UK) was the Bristol Belle in 1967. Today, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation, and there are some 7,500 hot air balloons operating in the United States.
On 12 September 1995, three gas balloons participating in the Gordon Bennett Cup entered Belarusian air space. Despite the fact that competition organizers had informed the Belarusian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, a Mil Mi-24B attack helicopter of the Belarusian Air Force shot down one balloon, killing two American citizens, Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis. Another of the balloons was forced to land while the third landed safely over two hours after the initial downing. The crews of the two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus has neither apologized nor offered compensation for the deaths.
On 11 August 2007, a hot air balloon burned & crashed in British Columbia when a fuel line became dislodged from a propane tank, killing two passengers; the Transportation Safety Board of Canada subsequently ruled that fuel tanks should have automatic shutoff valves.
- Balloon (aircraft)
- Balloon satellite
- Barrage balloon
- Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
- Cluster ballooning
- Espionage balloon
- Early flying machines
- Gas balloon
- High altitude balloon
- Hopper balloon
- Hot air balloon festivals
- Hot air ballooning
- Lighter than air
- List of balloon uses
- Montgolfier brothers
- Non-rigid airship (Blimp)
- Observation balloon
- Research balloon
- Skyhook balloon
- Solar balloon
- Thermal airship (Hot air airship)
- Ancient Chinese Inventions
- The Ten Thousand Infallible Arts of the Prince of Huai-Nan
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- NOTABLE PERFORMANCES and ACHIEVEMENTS
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