History of ballooning

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This 1818 technical illustration shows early balloon designs.

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.

Premodern and unmanned balloons[edit]

A Kongming lantern, the oldest type of hot air balloon.
Passarola, Bartolomeu de Gusmão’s airship

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).[1][2]

It has been demonstrated that manned hot air balloons can be built using ancient materials.[3] 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.[4]

The first documented balloon flight in Europe was by the Brazilian-Portuguese 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.[5][6][7][8][9][10] According to the Portuguese speaking community, this was the "earliest recorded model balloon flight".[11]

First hydrogen balloon[edit]

The balloon built by Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers is attacked by terrified villagers in Gonesse.

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. Jacques Charles, whose study of gases led to his namesake law of volumes, had studied the work of Cavendish, Black and Tiberius Cavallo,[12] and 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.[12]

Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers launched their balloon,[13] 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.[14] The balloon was comparatively small, a 35 cubic metre sphere of rubberised silk,[12] and only capable of lifting about 9 kg.[14] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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[14] or knives[16] and destroyed it. The project was funded by a subscription organised by Barthélémy Faujas de Saint-Fond.[13]

First unmanned flight[edit]

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.[17][18] 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.[17] 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.[17]

First manned flight[edit]

The first manned hot-air balloon, designed by the Montgolfier brothers, takes off from the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, on November 21, 1783

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.[12][19] 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.[20] 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.[21][22][23] 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[edit]

Contemporary illustration of the first flight by Professor Jacques Charles with Nicolas-Louis Robert, December 1, 1783. Viewed from the Place de la Concorde to the Tuileries Palace

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.[12][14] 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.[24] Jacques Charles was accompanied by Nicolas-Louis Robert as co-pilot of the 380-cubic-metre, hydrogen-filled balloon.[12][14] 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.[12] They ascended to a height of about 1,800 feet (550 m)[14] and landed at sunset in Nesles-la-Vallée after a flight of 2 hours and 5 minutes, covering 36 km.[12][14][16] The chasers on horseback, who were led by the Duc de Chartres, held down the craft while both Charles and Robert alighted.[16]

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[25][16]), 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.[16] Unlike the Robert brothers, Charles never flew again,[16] 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.[26]

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.[16] Among the 'special enclosure' crowd was Benjamin Franklin, the diplomatic representative of the United States of America.[16] 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.[16]

Further milestones[edit]

Balloon landing in Mashgh square, Iran (Persia), at the time of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, around 1850.

The next great challenge was to fly across the English Channel, a feat accomplished on January 7, 1785 by Jean-Pierre Blanchard.

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.[18] 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.

Balloonists sought a means to control the balloon's direction. 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.

Ballooning in the British Isles[edit]

The first manned balloon flight in England was by Signor Vincent Lunardi who ascended from Moorfields (London) on 15 September 1784.[27]

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.[28]

The first ascent in Ireland was from Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin in 1785 by Richard Crosbie.[29]

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") [30] 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.

[31]

Military use[edit]

The Union Army Balloon Intrepid being inflated from the gas generators for the Battle of Fair Oaks

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 .[32][33] 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.[34][35]

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.[36]

Gas balloons in 1919.

Hot air balloons were employed during the American Civil War.[37] 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.[citation needed]

20th century[edit]

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.[38]

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.[39] 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).

Although manned high-altitude balloon ascensions are still undertaken, they are more likely to be the work of adventurers than researchers.[40]

Modern day[edit]

A pair of Hopper balloons.

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.[41] 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.[citation needed]

The first tethered balloon in modern times was made in France at Chantilly Castle in 1994 by Aérophile SA.[citation needed]

Notable accidents[edit]

On 13 August 1989, two hot air balloons collided near Alice Springs, Northern Territory in Australia. One balloon crashed to the ground killing 13 people.[42]

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,[43][44] killing two American citizens, Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis.[45][46] 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.[47]

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.[48]

On 1 January 2011, a hot air balloon crashed in Westfield, Somerset, United Kingdom, killing both people on board.[49]

On 7 January 2012, a scenic hot air balloon flight from Carterton, New Zealand, touched a power line, caught fire, and crashed just north of the town, killing all eleven people on board.[42]

On 23 August 2012 in Slovenia, a hot air balloon crash-landed due to a thunderstorm, killing 6 and injuring the other 26 people on board.[50]

On 26 February 2013 the deadliest ballooning accident in history occurred when a hot air balloon exploded and crashed near Luxor, Egypt. The crash killed 19 of the 21 people on board.[51]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ancient Chinese Inventions
  2. ^ The Ten Thousand Infallible Arts of the Prince of Huai-Nan
  3. ^ Julian Nott. "The Extraordinary Nazca Prehistoric Balloon". Retrieved 2010-02-16. "With just a loom and fire you can fly!" 
  4. ^ Ege, L. (1973). Balloons and airships. Blandford. p. 6. Retrieved 2013-10-19. "...we came across a French source which tells of a missionary who once found, in archives in Pekin, a report of the way the civilised nations of the east solved the problems of aerial navigation by means of balloons, centuries before the Europeans." 
  5. ^ AMEIDA, L. Ferrand de, "Gusmão, Bartolomeu Lourenço de", in SERRÃO, Joel, Dicionário de História de Portugal, Porto, Figueirinhas, 1981, vol. III, pp. 184–185
  6. ^ CARVALHO, História dos Balões, Lisboa, Relógio d'Agua, 1991
  7. ^ CRUZ FILHO, F. Murillo, Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão: Sua Obra e o Significado Fáustico de Sua Vida, Rio de Janeiro, Biblioteca Reprográfica Xerox, 1985
  8. ^ SILVA, Inocencio da, ARANHA, Brito, Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, T. I, pp. 332–334
  9. ^ TAUNAY, Affonso d'Escragnolle, Bartolomeu de Gusmão: inventor do aerostato: a vida e a obra do primeiro inventor americano, S. Paulo, Leia, 1942
  10. ^ TAUNAY, Affonso d'Escragnolle, Bartholomeu de Gusmão e a sua prioridade aerostatica, S. Paulo: Escolas Profissionaes Salesianas, 1935, Sep. do Annuario da Escola Polytechnica da Univ. de São Paulo, 1935
  11. ^ "CIA Notable flights and performances: Part 01, 0000-1785". Svenska Ballong Federationen. Retrieved 2010-04-11. "Date 1709-08-08 Pilot: Bartholomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, Earliest recorded model balloon flight." 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Federation Aeronautique Internationale, Ballooning Commission, Hall of Fame, Robert Brothers.
  13. ^ a b Science and Society, Medal commemorating Charles and Robert’s balloon ascent, Paris, 1783.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Eccentric France: Bradt Guide to mad, magical and marvellous France By Piers Letcher - Jacques Charles
  15. ^ Today in Science, The Montgolfier and Charles Balloons, from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fiddlers Green, History of Ballooning, Jacques Charles
  17. ^ a b c Gillispie, CC (1983). The Montgolfier brothers and the invention of aviation 1783-1784. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-08321-6. 
  18. ^ a b Beischer, DE; Fregly, AR (1962). "Animals and man in space. A chronology and annotated bibliography through the year 1960.". US Naval School of Aviation Medicine. ONR TR ACR-64 (AD0272581). Retrieved 2011-06-14. 
  19. ^ "CIA Notable flights and performances: Part 01, 0000-1785". Svenska Ballong Federationen. Retrieved 2010-04-11. "Date 1783-11-21 Pilot: Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, First recorded manned flight." 
  20. ^ "U.S. Centennial of Flight Commisstion: Early Balloon Flight in Europe". Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  21. ^ "Start-Flying: history of balloon flying". Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  22. ^ "Lighter than air: The Montgolfier Brothers". Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  23. ^ "National Air and Space Museum: Pioneers of Flight gallery". Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  24. ^ Histoire Beuvry, Balloon revolution
  25. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica - Balloon Flight
  26. ^ Cira, Colo State.edu, Hilger, Metrology, Profile of Nicolas-Louis Robert
  27. ^ Praskavich, Michael and Griggs, Denise (2008) "Balloon Voyages in England". In "Conquest of the Skies: a history of ballooning", Lilly Library, University of Indiana. Retrieved 5 August 2012
  28. ^ Rawcliffe, Carole, Wilson, Richard and Clark, Christine. "Norwich Since 1550" Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, page 207
  29. ^ MacMahon, Bryan (2010). "Ascend or Die: Richard Crosbie - pioneer of balloon flight". The History Press, Ireland, 256 pp., ISBN 9781845889852, cited in James Scannell (2011), "First Flight by an Irishman". Ireland's Genealogical Gazette, ISSN 1649-7937, Volume 6, number 3, page 4, available at Ireland's Genealogical Gazette PDF (accessed 5 August 2012)
  30. ^ http://www.old-father-thames.co.uk/Sector03/0203html/bc058019.html
  31. ^ Dictionary of Dates for Universal Reference by Benjamin Vincent, London 1863
  32. ^ Edmund Götschel, Geschichte des vaterländischen Krieges im Jahre 1812, Band 2, 1840, P. 229-230 (online)
  33. ^ In: Cobbett's weekly political register. Volume 22, R. Bagshaw, 1812, P. 659–660 (online)
  34. ^ Jahrbücher des Kaiserlichen Königlichen Polytechnischen Institutes in Wien, Volume 1, 1919, P. 405 (online).
  35. ^ Amts- und Intelligenz-Blatt von Salzburg, F.X. Duyle, 1819, P. 44-46(online).
  36. ^ War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy. 2007 Alfred A Knopf. New York. pgs 751 & 1240
  37. ^ United States Centennial of Flight Commission (2003)"Balloons in the American Civil War", accessed 5 August 2012
  38. ^ "Barrage Balloons for Low-Level Air Defense". Air & Space Power Journal. Summer 1989. Retrieved 2007-04-16. 
  39. ^ G. Pfotzer, "History of the Use of Balloons in Scientific Experiments", Space Science Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp. 199-242 (1972).
  40. ^ E.g., "DIY balloon sent up 30km", Boing Boing, October 26, 2007. Accessed 2009.10.08.
  41. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (June 4, 2007). "New York Times: Ed Yost, 87, Father of Modern Hot-Air Ballooning, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  42. ^ a b "Australia Balloon Crash Kills 13". New York Times. AP. August 14, 1989. Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  43. ^ Browne, Malcolm W. (September 14, 1995). "2 American Balloonists Die When Shot Down in Belarus". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  44. ^ "Racing Balloon Is Shot Down by Attack Helicopter in Belarus" (pdf). Flight Safety Foundation. July 1996. Retrieved July 30, 2012. 
  45. ^ Cimons, Marlene; Williams, Carol J. (September 15, 1995). "Ill-Fated Balloonists Shared Passion for Flying". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  46. ^ "Belarus shoots down US balloon". The Independent (London). September 14, 1995. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  47. ^ "Belarus". United States Department of State. August 27, 2010. Retrieved July 30, 2012. 
  48. ^ CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2008/09/22/bc-balloon-report.html |url= missing title (help). 
  49. ^ Batty, David (January 1, 2011). "Hot air balloon crash kills two". London: The Guardian. Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  50. ^ "Hot Air Balloon Crash In Slovenia Kills 4". Reuters. August 23, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  51. ^ "Foreign tourists killed in Egypt balloon crash". http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/. 26 February 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 

References[edit]

  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Physics and Physical Technology, Part 2, Mechanical Engineering. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.

External links[edit]