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THE HISTORY OF HOT AIR BALLOONING

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History reveals that man has always wanted to fly. Early cave drawings show man attempting to fly with wings. It wasn't until the curiosity of two brothers named Joseph and Etienne Montgolifier would flight for man be possible.

Joseph and Etienne were in the paper manufacturing business, and developed a new paper which was a combination of paper and silk. When they watched paper burn they noticed that little pieces of unburned paper and ashes would rise into the air. They were very fascinated by this phenomenon. They decided if they could capture this air man would be able to use this to fly.

The first hot air balloon flight was conducted by the Montgolfier brothers from Annonay, France on June 5, 1783. The envelope was made of linen and paper. The unmanned balloon had a volume of 23,308 cubic feet and the air within was heated from a fire on the ground. The first passengers were actually a pig, duck, and rooster. The Montgolfier balloon flew 1 mile from the starting point.

November 21, 1783 records the first manned flight in a hot air balloon. Lifting aloft in Paris, France two noblemen of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette took flight in a paper lined silk balloon crafted by the Montgolfier brothers. The flight lasted for 22 minutes flying 500 feet above the countryside from the center of town into the grape vineyards of the countryside. Legend has it that early French aeronauts carried champagne to appease angry or frightened spectators at the landing site.

In 1785 only 3 years following the invention of the hot air balloon, two men, a French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard and the first American balloonist John Jefferies, became the first men to fly across the English Channel. Jean-Pierre Blanchard later became the first man to pilot a balloon in North America. In 1793 Blanchard flew a balloon in America and was witnessed by George Washington.

Basically there were very few advances to ballooning for about 150 years. People then became interested in fixed wing aircraft (airplanes). The rebirth of ballooning occurred in 1960. Gas ballooning was expensive and the balloons were hard to control. Ed Yost developed basic techniques that made hot air ballooning practical. He built a balloon made of nylon and heated the air inside the balloon with a propane burner. Even though the balloon was primitive, Ed Yost is considered to be the father of modern day ballooning.

One of the most important improvements to hot air balloons is the parachute valve, sometimes called the deflation vent, located at the top of the balloon. Yost's balloon used a rip vent, a seal which could not be resealed and let all of the air escape at once. Then Tracy Barnes of The Balloon Works developed the parachute valve, that when pulled down by a line would let some of the air out of the balloon. The remaining air inside of the balloon caused the valve to push back upward and reseal itself in the top of the balloon when the line was released. This allowed pilots to open and close the valve during the flight if necessary to control their altitude and land with air remaining in the balloon.

Today, most balloon baskets are made of rattan wicker. Balloon baskets come in two main shapes: rectangular or triangular. In addition to carrying the passengers and pilot, the basket also contains the propane tanks, burner, and instruments. One instrument that shows the vertical speed up or down is called the Variometer. The second instrument that shows the temperature at the top of the balloon and the ambient temperature is the digital temperature gauge. The third instrument is the Altimeter which tells how high the balloon is above sea level.

There have been recent improvements in fabrics used to manufacture balloons. Taffeta has replaced nylon in many cases because of its ability to withstand higher temperatures. Both taffeta and nylon fabrics are treated with a coating to better contain the heat and provide ultraviolet protection. All fabrics used in balloons are certified by the FAA for use.

All of these improvements along with good pilot training have made hot air ballooning one of the safest forms of air travel.


Other ballooning moments worth note:

1932--Swiss Aeronaut Auguste Piccard 1st manned flight into the stratosphere (52,498 feet)

1935--Explorer 2 reaches an altitude of 72,395 feet a record that lasted for 20 years. This flight also was the first flight that proved that man could survive in a pressure suit in extremely high atmosphere.

1960--Captain Joe Kittinger parachute jumped from a balloon that was at a height of 102,000 feet. Captain Kittinger passed through the sound barrier while in free fall.

1978--The Double Eagle Flies across the Atlantic Ocean.

1981--The Double Eagle V crosses the Pacific Ocean.

1987--Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson fly a hot air balloon across the Atlantic. They flew 2,900 miles in 33 hours. Their balloon at the time was the largest ever flown containing 2.3 million cubic feet of air.

1991--Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson fly across the Pacific Ocean a distance of 6,700 miles in 47 hours flying at times at speeds of 245 mph.

1999--The first round the world flight was completed by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. Leaving from Switzerland and landing in Africa they flew for 19 days 21 hours and 55 minutes.

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