Portal:Biography/Selected article/July 20

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Drawing of Sophie Blanchard engraved in 1859.

Sophie Blanchard was a French aeronaut. The widow of ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard, she was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist. Though nervous on the ground, she was a fearless aeronaut and after her husband's death she continued ballooning, making more than 60 ascents. Known throughout Europe for her ballooning exploits, she entertained Napoleon Bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of "Aeronaut of the Official Festivals", replacing André-Jacques Garnerin. On the restoration of the monarchy in 1814 she performed for Louis XVIII, who named her "Official Aeronaut of the Restoration". Ballooning was a risky business for the pioneers. Blanchard lost consciousness on a couple of occasions, endured freezing temperatures and almost drowned when her balloon crashed in a marsh. In 1819 she became the first woman to be killed in an aviation accident when, during an exhibition in the Tivoli Gardens in Paris, she launched fireworks that ignited the gas in her balloon. Her craft crashed on the roof of a house and she fell to her death. (Read more...)