The history of ballooning

Flying, swimming, diving in the air with the desire to go somewhere, to soar above the brink of our possibilities. Flying farther, higher, faster or slower to dive headlong into the clouds. “Flying objects” there are many today: heat balloons are a start, aren’t they?

Joseph Montgolfier was born in 1740. He felt a great passion for new machines, which were very fashionable at the time. Together with his younger brother Etienne Montgolfier, they often dreamed of the Man taking to the air. The brothers had even invented a shell stuffed with clouds that would hold the basket. However, they did not know how to realize this idea.

One day Joseph noticed that the shirt he was holding over the fireplace fire by the collar was bulging, and a brilliant idea occurred to him. He told Etienne of his discovery and the brothers began to think of what shape the balloon they would use for their first experiments might be.

First they sewed together a one cubic meter silk shell. Heated over a fire, the silk balloon rose to a height of thirty meters. This happened in November 1782. This date can be considered as the beginning of aeronautics.

On December 14, 1782. 3m3 balloon rose above Vidalon’s factory in Annonay (Annonay. France). To get heat the Mongolfier brothers burned wet straw mixed with wool and paper.
On April 25, 1783 an 800 m3 balloon rose into the air to a height of 400 m.

Strange object in the sky

The brothers worked secretly in their garden. However, as the experimental balloons rose higher and higher, they were afraid that the neighbors would see their discovery and… “steal” the idea. So, they decided to publicly demonstrate their balloon in the main square of Annona. The invited dignitaries were to testify that the originators of the idea were the Mongolfier brothers. On Wednesday, June 4, 1783, the brothers organized a performance. They made a 900m3 ball for this performance in Cordelier Square: for it, the brothers used cotton scraps of form, which they sewed onto paper sheets and looped together. The cloth was reinforced with vertical rods. A straw and wool basket was hung under the cotton lampshade. When the heated air lifted the balloon, the brothers cut the ropes.

The balloon rose to a height of 1,000 meters in 10 minutes. The people involved in its lifting could attest to its authenticity: a protocol was drawn up, with which the Montgolfier brothers appealed to the Paris Academy of Sciences to be officially recognized as the first creators of the “flying” apparatus. This was the beginning of aeronautics.

Ten minutes later, after the air in the shell had cooled, the balloon descended into a field and was ignited by a smoldering fire in the basket. Nearby, working peasants were frightened out of the sky by the strange object that had fallen and, unfortunately, made no effort to put it out. The first heat balloon completely destroyed the fire.

The Academy of Sciences invited the brothers to demonstrate their discovery: in August 1783 Etienne came to Paris. He met several physicists interested in his discovery, as well as Pilatre de Rozier. The latter would later become the first person to take to the skies in an airplane, which at the time was not yet called a “Montgolfier” (after the Montgolfier brothers).

The first braves: the duck, the rooster, and the sheep

Almost at the same time, the famous French physicist Jacques Alexandre Charles makes a balloon filled with hydrogen gas. He thought that on June 4, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers used hydrogen during the presentation of their balloon. He wanted to take the balloon into the air and conduct physical tests. Together with the Robert brothers, Charles produced a 4-meter diameter “Globe” (le Globe), which on August 27, 1783 rose from the Champ de Mars and descended near the village north of Bourget. No one knew then that this airplane would be called a “charlier” – after the physicist Charles.

Etienne conducted many experiments in Paris, in the gardens of the Reveillon wallet (Reveillon), until he decided to take one more step – to lift a man into the air.

Pilatre de Rosier volunteers to be a passenger, but the flight is considered too dangerous, as it is not yet clear how changes in altitude affect the human body or other living creature. The inventors decide to send a duck, a rooster and a sheep on their first flight.
This took place in Versailles in September 1783. King Ludwig XVI of France watched the flight. All three animals were placed in a basket and the balloon went up. After the flight, which lasted three to eight minutes, the animals came down safely and alive in Vaukresson (3 km away); the sheep was quietly nibbling on straw. True, the rooster came back a little plucked, but only because he was stirring under the sheep’s feet…

The Mongolfier brothers proved that living creatures, with the exception of birds of course, can fly without the slightest danger.

Mongolfier breaks the ice

On Wednesday, October 15, 1783, Montgolfier inflates the balloon and Pilatr de Rosier climbs into a separate basket which is secured at the bottom of the balloon. Pilatr goes up about 25 meters – as far as the ropes will allow. On Friday, October 17, the same experiment is repeated. The park fills with curious people, many of them Parisian celebrities. On that day, the balloon rises to a height of 108 meters. The only Ludwig XVI does not approve of people flying. The king felt responsible for their lives. After long negotiations, however, the sovereign finally gave permission, but refused to participate himself. The Mongolfier brothers themselves did not fly either, as they had promised their father never to fly in their balloon (the latter was not sure that his sons’ discovery was completely safe). Therefore, Pilatr de Rosiers was chosen to fly. Another passenger was needed to keep the equilibrium. The Marquis de Arlandes (d’Ariandes) became him. The passenger basket was divided into three parts: on both sides there were seats for the passengers, in the middle there was a burner. If necessary, passengers could throw straw into the fire and thus control the height of the flight. On November 21, 1783, the first people took to the air. It seems that Pilatr knew very well how to control the balloon. He knew exactly when to warm the air and when to let it cool. The Marquis de Arlandes was less active; he was more interested in admiring Paris from a bird’s eye view. Pil√Ętre de Rosiers and the Marquis de Arlandes took off in Etienne Montgolfier’s 2,200 m3 balloon in Mueten (Paris) and descended to Bouthey (Cay) 10 km away. The flight lasted 25 minutes, the balloon rose to an altitude of 1000 meters. Raw straw, scraps of old cloth and spoiled meat were burned to maintain the necessary heat. The first human balloon flight was a success. The Montgolfier brothers celebrated their victory.

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