The Fascinating History of Hot Air Balloons

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

When were hot air balloons invented?

Hot Air Ballooning had its inception in September of 1973 when De Rozier, a French scientist, launched the first balloon with a sheep, duck, and rooster as passengers. The balloon stayed airborne for fifteen minutes before it crashed to the ground.

A few months later, the first manned ballooning attempt was successful when brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier launched a balloon from the centre of Paris and flew for 20 full minutes (without crashing).

From there the sport exploded.

In 1785 a balloon was flown across the English Channel, and in 1793, the first launch in North America was witnessed by George Washington himself. 

Once balloon pilots had proven that they could go the distance, they began to look ‘up’ and the race to reach the Stratosphere began. A Swiss scientist named Auguste Piccard was the first to do so in 1932 when he reached 52,498 feet. Almost 30 years later in 1960, Captain Joe Kittiger blew this record away by reaching 102,000 feet before parachute jumping from his balloon. He inadvertently broke another record by breaking the sound barrier with his body during the jump. 

Since then, pilots have taken their balloons across the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and around the world.

How do hot air balloons work?

The science behind flying a balloon is based on the simple principle that warm air rises because it is lighter than cooler air.

Modern day balloons are made up of three main parts: the envelope (fabric), the basket, and the burner (the heat source which is usually fuelled by propane). To raise the balloon, more propane is added to the burner, and to lower it, vents in the envelope are pulled open by the pilot to allow hot air to escape.

Balloons move horizontally because of the wind currents present at different altitudes.

Where can you go hot air ballooning?

Hot air ballooning has become a passion for many and is a sport that can be found all over the world. In the summer and fall, there are hundreds of festivals held by various balloon clubs and many will give rides all year round. 

It is hard to find words to describe the feeling of looking down on the vineyards of Sonoma or the city streets of Paris the way that the birds do — quietly coasting on the currents of the wind. 

Once you experience the silent, graceful flight through the air in a balloon, it is easy to understand why so many people are addicted to the sport. 

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