The Montgolfier Brothers: Pioneers of Ballooning
On September 19, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers launched their Aérostat Réveillon hot air balloon. The flight was the first to take living beings into the skies.
Just three months earlier on June 4, Joseph-Michel and Jaques-Étienne Montgolfier made the first public demonstration of their invention, the hot air balloon.
The first flight in Annonay, France, covered 2km and lasted 10 minutes reaching over 6,000ft. The flight was a spectacle and talk surrounding the brothers soon reached Paris and the King, Louis XVI.
By September, the brothers wanted to see if humans could survive flight. It was suggested by King Louis XVI that prisoners be used. But the Montgolfier brothers decided to use a sheep aptly named Montauciel - ‘climb to the sky’ - along with a duck and a rooster.
The demonstration on September 19 was conducted at Versailles in the presence of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette along with a crowd of onlookers. The balloon was 30ft in diameter and was elaborately decorated in sky-blue wallpaper with gold styling.
Lasting approximately eight minutes, the flight covered 3km and reached a height of around 1,500 feet before landing safely.
By November 1783, the first humans had taken to the sky in one of the Montgolfier balloons.
It would be more than two centuries before the world’s first circumnavigation by balloon, achieved by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in the Breitling Orbiter 3 which travelled 42,810km around the globe landing on March 20, 1999.
Today, balloons are used for transport, sightseeing and scientific and meteorological purposes.
Weather balloons, or sounding balloons, are high altitude balloons which measure pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed and provide invaluable data for weather forecasting models.
Hot air balloon festivals are also popular in many countries. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, hosted annually in New Mexico, is the largest, attracting more than 500 hot air balloons during the nine-day event every October.
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