The history of Hot Air Balloons

As the oldest form of flight known to man, the history of Hot Air Balloons dates back well into the early 1700’s with the first successful ascension in a hot air balloon, called Passarola, made by Bartholomeu de Gusmao on 8 August 1709.

Between 1774 and 1786 Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier experimented on various types of air, which led to the discovery of the new age hydrogen gas. In September 1783, a 13m diameter cloth and paper balloon was released in Versailles by scientist Pilatre de Rozier, powered by hydrogen gas. King Louis XVI would not allow a man to undertake the flight for safety reasons, so a sheep, rooster and duck were the first passengers. The balloon flew 55m and descended after 8 minutes 3km away. The passengers were mostly unharmed, bar the rooster which had been sat on by the sheep during the flight.

In November 1783, the Montgolfier brothers undertook the first free flight, launched from the middle of Paris. Although the balloon caught alight, it was extinguished and the flight lasted 25 minutes and covered a distance of 8km.

In 1785, the fist English channel crossing was undertaken in a balloon by French Balloonist Jean Pierre Blanchard and his American co pilot, John Jeffries. This same year, Pilatre de Rozier was killed when his experimental design of a hot air balloon and hydrogen balloon exploded shortly after take off for a channel crossing.

In January 1793, Jean Piere Blanchard became the first to fly a hot air balloon in North America with American President George Washington there to watch the show. In 1794, the French Military included balloons in their corps as aerial observers. The balloon was used into the 1800’s by the Union army during the civil war and the French during the Franco Prussian war.

By the end of January 1871, 66 balloons had been flow carrying people dogs mail and iceos.

In 1978 the first Atlantic crossing, manned by Ben Abruzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman, was achieved using a helium balloon, the Double Eagle ii. This set a new record for the longest balloon flight with an astounding 137 hours.
This was followed in 1981 with the first Pacific crossing and the first solo transatlantic crossing by Captain Joe Kittenger in 1984.

In South Africa, the first manned flight took place in 1885. Hot air balloons were originally used by the military for reconnaissance purposes, but the arrival in 1969 of the first hot air balloon changed the trend towards civilian ballooning in the country.

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