Many regard the Wright brothers as being the first pilots to fly, but people were flying in hot air balloons a century before the Wright brothers’ inaugural flight. Here are some other historical facts you may not know about balloons:
In 1783, the first hot air balloon flight flew over Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the French court in Versailles. In order to test the effects of flight, a duck, a rooster and a sheep were the passengers. After a flight of two miles, the balloon returned to the ground with the animals unharmed.
Louis XVI of France ordered the first manned balloon flight. Because he feared that the pilots could die in this untested means of flight, he chose two people who were destined to die anyway, Jean-Francois Pilate De Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes who were criminals sentenced to death.
It is traditional to celebrate a balloon flight with a glass of champagne. When hot air ballooning became popular in France, the farmers who owned the land where the balloons landed were afraid of them because with their smoke and fire they resembled dragons. To keep the farmers happy, pilots offered them champagne, and this is where the tradition of after flight champagne was born.
In 2010, at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Christian Brown demonstrated a balloon whose basket had a glass bottom. Passengers could look straight down to the ground below. Unfortunately, some passengers were terrified and glass bottom balloons have not become popular.
In 1808, two Frenchmen competed for the hand of a lady and decided to settle the matter with the world’s first balloon duel. They rose in the air in two separate hot air balloons. As the crowd below watched, the two rivals drew pistols and fired. One balloon was hit and crashed to the ground killing the pilot, whilst the winner of this first balloon duel descended to the ground safely to claim the lady.
In 1794, a balloon was used for aerial observation by the French to spy on the Austrian troops during the Battle of Fleurus. The French army won the battle, but how much the balloon observation contributed to this victory was not clear.
Abraham Lincoln saw the value of hot air balloons and created the Balloon Corps which consisted of seven balloons that were used to spy on the enemy during the American Civil War. The Balloon Corps were not very successful as with their large canopies they were easily shot down. This led to the Balloon Corps disbanding in 1863.
When you enjoy the adventure of a balloon flight, remember that you are experiencing the oldest form of human flight.