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History of the Hot Air Balloon

Batul Nafisa Baxamusa
The hot air balloon is by far, one of the most interesting human-carrying flight technologies to have been invented. Learn about the history of this amazing creation.

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Man has always envied birds for their ability to fly and soar high up in the sky. We all wish to spread our wings and be able to fly great distances, see new lands, and travel without much hassle. Even the early humans wished to fly, as has been depicted in the various cave paintings.
Archimedes, the great mathematician from Ancient Greece, who understood and explained buoyancy, may also have had a dream of being able to invent a flying machine. The dream of being able to fly was shared by the 13th century English scientist Roger Bacon, and the German philosopher Albertus Magnus.
Both men proposed hypothetical ideas of a flying machine, based on the principle where force could be applied to lift them upwards. Many great men chased their dream of flying, and eventually stumbled upon the invention of the hot air balloon. If you are wondering how this fabulous technology was invented, read on.

The Basic Idea

The ambition to fly was too overwhelming, and people seem to have toyed with the idea of creating flying machines, in history. Henry Cavendish, the British scientist, discovered hydrogen in 1766. He noted that it was the simplest and the lightest of all gases on earth.
Cavendish, described hydrogen as a 'negative weight', as it was lighter than air, and this prompted him to propose the idea, that the gas could be used to lift objects from earth towards the sky. Cavendish would have been able to get another great invention credited to his name, had he pursued his idea of using hydrogen, in order to fly.

A Duck, a Sheep, a Chicken, and the Journey Begins

Two brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, who were into paper manufacturing business, toyed with the idea of flying. Developed a new kind of paper by combining silk and paper. Burning the new paper, and found ashes rose up into the air. This fascinated them, and earned a name in history as the globe aérostatique or the inventors of the hot air balloon.

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The brothers thought that the smoke had magical powers that helped the ashes rise in air. Thus, they decided to capture that smoke in small bags that would rise in the air.

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Finally, they figured out that even a large bag containing smoke, or the supposed 'magic power', could ascend into the sky.

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The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is that the heated air is less dense inside the balloon, and hence, the air outside the balloon helps it rise upwards.

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The first flight of the air balloon was conducted at Annonay, France on June 5, 1783. It was made of linen and paper, and had a volume of about 23,303 cubic feet.
Fire on the ground helped heat the air in the balloon. The first passengers of this historic flight were a sheep, a duck, and a chicken.
The balloon flew one mile from the starting point, and was witnessed by King Louis XVI from the front of his palace. It was a successful flight, and none of the passengers suffered any injuries. Thus, began the journey of the hot air balloon.

Further Developments

The invention of the Montgolfier brothers, inspired two more people―one, a major in the infantry, and another, a physics professor who wanted to try flying. After two months from the first flight, François Laurent d'Arlandes and Pilâtre de Rozier became the first humans to fly. They were lifted to about 3,000 feet, and remained aloft for about 25 minutes.

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Soon, their success tempted many to make different hot air balloon designs, and some really ambitious flights. On August 27, 1783, a French chemist, Jacques Charles, invented a new balloon that used hydrogen to be lifted off the ground.
The gas indeed proved to be very useful, and on December 1, 1783, Charles and Noel Roberts flew 27 miles in their first hydrogen-filled balloon. The first woman in history to fly a hot air balloon was Élisabeth Thible, who went aloft at Lyon, France on June 4, 1784.
On October 4, 1784, James Satler became the first man to fly a British-designed balloon. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard flew the first hot air balloon in Philadelphia, America on January 9, 1793. Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries, two American, were the first to fly a hot air balloon across the English Channel on January 7, 1785.

The Journey Continues

For about 150 years, there were very few advances in the hot air ballooning technology. In 1960, Paul Edward Yost developed a balloon made of nylon, and heated the air within the balloon using a propane burner. Owing to this advancement, Yost is now known as the "Father of the Modern-day Hot Air Balloon.".
There have been many changes made since then and today, the balloon baskets are made of rattan wicker. They come in 2 shapes, rectangular and triangular. It contains the propane tanks, a burner, and the other instruments which are needed. There are 3 instruments, the variometer; the digital temperature gauge; and an altimeter, in the modern hot air balloons.

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Even in this age of jet planes and rockets, people still enjoy a ride in hot air balloons. Hot balloon festivals are organized to give people, the taste of the old world.