Home and Physics - Ballooning History
The “Magical” Sky Experience
French paper manufacturers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier were the first documented persons to inflate and send a balloon up in flight from their home town of Annonay in the south of France.
The brothers first came across the idea of balloon flight through their job. Whenever they burnt paper, they noticed the paper and ash floated up with the heat and smoke. They considered whether this “lifting ability” could be caught within a large enough “bag” and therefore lift and create flight into the air.
On the 25th April 1783 they decided to test their theory. They built a large urn in the Annonay town square on which they placed hay, wool and dried horse manure. The wool and horse manure were to slow the heat release from the hay and create smoke rather than naked flame. The balloon was hand-inflated, placed over the urn, then filled with smoke until the heat was great enough to lift it off the ground and take the weight on ropes being used to tether it. Sure enough, it worked! On the 4th June 1783 they repeated the experiment but this time allowed the balloon to fly freely through the sky until it cooled and landed. Their confidence was growing but not enough to yet put a man aboard, so they decided to try some animals first.
On the 16th September 1783, a duck, sheep and rooster were placed in a cage and given a safe flight, This gave them the confidence to believe the mysteries of the sky could be conquered by man, and so after negotiations with the King of France it was decided a Montgolfier balloon would be flown by men over the city of Paris on 21st November.
The King had originally wanted a convicted criminal to go aboard on the basis that if he met his fate he would have had his just reward, but if he survived he would receive the Royal pardon. However, the Mongolfier brothers insisted that it was important to have men aboard who knew a little more about the process and requested two of their friends, Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent, the Marquis d'Arlandes, fly the very first Montgolfier balloon over the City or Paris.
Over the years the lighter-than-air gas balloon became the more favoured form of propulsion. These gas balloons had sandbags which are thrown off to lighten the load and cause lift, while gas can be vented off to attain decent.
Ballooning generally stayed like this through to 1960 when Ed Yost, an American, created the modern burner system using LP Gas (methane and propane) to offer a more sustainable and controlled flight. So, through Raven Industries (the mother company of Aerostar International) the new Hot Air Ballooning revival was started.
Ballooning never really developed as a mode of transport purely because there are a lot of uncertainties involved. It was the aristocrats of England and Europe who flew balloons for the pleasure of a mystery flight through the sky, and in those days ballooning was full of uncertainties. Early day balloonists had no control over where they were going; they didn't know where they were going to land, and they didn't know who they were going to meet when they got there!
Local farmers were understandably rather frightened and sceptical about balloons and often mistook them for otherworldly beings. Many a time balloonists were met with hostilities in the form of pitchforks when they landed. This is where the tradition of offering the landowner a bottle of champagne evolved from - it not only gave the farmers thanks for letting them land on their property, it also proved the balloon was in fact French.
Today there are many thousands of balloons, and commercialism has gone a step further in the building of specially shaped balloons to promote many products around the western world. Many of these are very impressive and strong promotional objects when seen flying through the sky.
» Balloonists' Prayer
Superstitious early balloonists developed a prayer to protect them from disaster including demons, thunder, lighting and the wrath of the gods.
They always prayed prior to the flight as follows:
May the winds welcome you with softness,
May the sun bless you with his warm hands,
May you fly so high and so well, that God joins you in laughter,
and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.
» WEIGH-OFF PRAYER
May the winds be gentle, the stars be bright,
May the pilot be skilled, and the landing light,
May the crew be timely, and recovery easy,