The History Of Ballooning
by Gérard Chauvy
The Montgolfiers were a big family, to say the least - but two of their sixteen children
really stood out: Joseph, born in August 1740 and Etienne, five years his junior. Neither
showed any great enthusiasm for the family paper- manufacturing trade, with their father,
Pierre, still firmly holding the reins of the factory at Viladon-les-Annonay, south of
Lyon. The aging paterfamilias was probably wondering if his two boys had their heads in
Joseph certainly didn't lack imagination. Observing the sky, he concluded that
after all he could very easily make a
cloud himself: so he got some paper from the factory, made an envelope, filled it with
steam - and saw his idea collapse in a mass of sodden paper. Etienne wasn't about to be
left out: it was probably his scientific reading that gave him the idea
of making a bag float in the air with gas obtained from sulfuric acid and iron filings.
Another failure. But then in November 1782, working indoors, Joseph managed to get a
taffeta envelope filled with hot air to rise to the ceiling. He summoned his brother:
"Get in a stock of taffeta and rope and you'll see one of the most astonishing sights
in the whole world!" It was time for serious scientific experiments to begin.
To the amazement of a group of spectators, the Montgolfier brothers soon managed to send a
sort of giant paper bag some thirty meters (100 ft) up in the air, using gas obtained by
burning a mixture of wet straw and chopped wool. Joseph and Etienne decided to push things
further, via a "machine" for taking people into the air - an
"aerostat" they called it. "Seraphina", to use their private name for
this strange contrivance, was to be a 12-meter (40 ft) envelope made of wrapping fabric
lined with paper, with its multiple sections held together by some 2000 buttons. A totally
hare-brained idea, according to their critics. After the preliminary tryouts, the first
public experiment was scheduled for Annonay on 4 June 1783, just happening to coincide
with a meeting of the area's most influential people.
The town square in Annonay was packed, with people struggling to get a look at the balloon
spread out on the ground and tied to wooden posts. The fire was lit and the envelope began
to fill; some of the spectators became uneasy, not least because of the horrible smell
given off by the burning mixture of straw and wool. Under a menacing sky and with the wind
beginning to rise, it took several men to hold the enormous balloon down until the order
was given to let go. Seraphina took off and a few minutes later was no more than a dot in
the sky, some 2000 meters (6500 ft) up. The "aerostat" began to drift and
gradually descend, since the hot air was escaping little by little. Rushing after it the
local people found it in the middle of a vineyard two kilometers (a mile and a quarter)
from where it had taken off.
News of the experiment traveled fast. Soon all Paris was talking balloons and the
Montgolfiers even had a competitor in the capital. On August 26 the physicist Jacques
Charles sent up a hydrogen balloon from the Champ de Mars: it came to earth in a village
16 kilometers (10 miles) away, where terrified locals attacked this monster from the
skies. However the first "accompanied" flight - with a sheep, a rooster and a
duck on board - was organized by the Montgolfiers on September 19, from the gardens of the
Palace of Versailles. And finally, on November 21, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis
d'Arlandes climbed into a Montgolfier balloon for the first manned flight. Even Benjamin
Franklin was lost for words. The hot-air balloon had been born and on January 19, 1784 the
people of Lyon had their chance to admire the invention that began the conquest of space.
Charles' balloon was a much more practical device than the hot air balloon in the 18th
century, and differed very little from the gas balloons flying today. For almost two
centuries hot-air balloons were virtually ignored until the late 1950's when a balloon was
built as part of a United States Government research program. This balloon was of man-made
fibers and was filled with air heated by a propane flame. The modern hot-air balloon was
Hot Air Ballooning FAQ's
Frequently Asked Questions About Ballooning
What are hot air balloons made of?
The envelope, is made of a reinforced fabric called rip-stop nylon (some balloons are made
of acron). The material is very light weight and strong. The fabric is coated on the
inside to prevent leaks. The baskets are made from rattan and each one is individually
woven by hand.
How is it inflated?
First the envelope is stretched out on the ground and attached to the basket, which is
lying on its side. A small gasoline-powered fan blows air into the balloon. Then the
burner is turned on, and the air in the balloon is heated. The hot air rises, lifting the
balloon upright. Since a balloon is quite unwieldy on the ground, especially in gusty
winds, it takes about four people to get the balloon inflated. Of course, the more people
there are, the more fun you can have.
How big are hot air balloons?
The typical sport balloons range in size from 65,000 to 105,000 cubic feet in volume and
stand about 70 feet tall.
Can you steer a hot air balloon?
The balloon goes where the wind takes it. However, the winds at varying altitudes may blow
in different directions and at different speeds, so the trick is to climb or descend to an
altitude where the wind is blowing in the direction you want to go.
How fast does it go?
As fast as the wind. Or as slow, Since the balloon has no forward propulsion system, its
speed is determined entirely by the speed of the wind. That's why balloon races are
strictly races of accuracy not speed.
When is the best time to fly a balloon?
Usually just after sunrise and one or two hours before sunset. This is when winds are
calmest and the air most stable.
How high do balloons fly?
Most balloon flights occur between 500 and 1,000 feet above the ground. But balloons can
fly at just above the ground or go much higher. The world record for altitude in a hot air
balloon is 64,997 feet.
How long can it stay up?
Normally, the balloon carries enough fuel to remain aloft for about 2 hours. Factors like
outside air temperature, weight being carried in the basket and weather determine the
duration of the flight.
What kind of fuel is used?
Hot Air Balloons use propane, kept in pressurized tanks in the basket. The tanks are
connected to burners with aircraft certified flexible hoses. When the burner valves are
opened, the propane is ignited by a pilot light in the burner. The flame may shoot out as
much as ten or twenty feet, making a loud "whoosh.". Generally balloons carries
30-40 gallons of liquid propane.
How do you get it back?
With the help of a chase crew who drive a recovery vehicle. The chase crew follows
the flight of the balloon trying to stay parallel or ahead of the balloon and should be on
hand to make the recovery when the balloon touches down.
Do you need a license to pilot a balloon?
Yes. A Balloon Pilot Certificate is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. You
must pass an FAA written exam, have a prescribed number of hours of flight instruction in
a balloon, make a solo flight and a flight to altitude, pass a flight test and oral exam
with a designated fight examiner and submit a medical statement.
|Arizona Balloon Club 2013