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Myth Busted: hot air balloon myths debunked

17th July 2020 Mark Features

Hot air ballooning is a favourite past-time for so many people. Even those who prefer to keep their feet on hard ground enjoy watching the colourful globes of hot air balloons as they fly overhead, and nothing is as enchanting as a serene hot air balloon glow display by night.

Yet, there remain a number of misconceptions about the history and practice of hot air ballooning. Here, we debunk five of our favourites.

1. The Montgolfier brothers were the first to lift off in a hot air balloon

Whilst Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier were, in September 1783, the first to develop and demonstrate the hot air balloon as we know it today, the first human to ascend on a tethered flight from the earth’s surface was fellow French national Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, who in October of 1783 flew to a height of 26 meters.

However, before de Rozier took his place in the record books, hot air balloonists sent a sheep, a duck and cockerel up in a hot air balloon as a test. The sheep was named Montauciel, or ‘Climb to the Sky’, in honour of his courageous adventuring.

2. Balloons cannot fly in winter

While the ballooning season runs from April to October, hot air balloons can fly well in colder weather. This is because the lift a balloon achieves depends on the difference between the interior and exterior temperature. Using electric heat tapes to prevent propane fuel tanks from freezing makes the possibility of a winter flight more certain.

One of the reasons that winter flights are uncommon is this country is because temperature is not the only consideration when assessing whether a flight will take off. Visibility conditions, the likelihood of rain, and the weather pressure all contribute to making a flight comfortable and safe. The conditions for these are more favourable in spring and summer.

3. Hot air balloon passengers must be freezing!

Which brings us to our third myth, while it can be cold in a hot air balloon – especially as the balloon ascends very high – it is also toasty and warm under the balloon burner. When planning your flight, it is important to remember that your head might become quite warm if you get too close to the central burner.

Remember too that balloons move with the wind, so it shouldn’t be a breezy experience.

4. Hot air balloons are noisy

The burner of a hot air balloon is indeed noisy, but once switched off and cruising at altitude, you will not even hear the wind as you float. Hot air balloons travel on the wind, so apart from the chatter and gasps of awe of your other travellers, it is likely to be one of the more peaceful places you can find yourself.

5. Phileas Fogg went around the world in a balloon in 80 days

The image of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg circumnavigating the globe by hot air balloon is iconic, and one of the more enduring myths of this epic adventure. In Verne’s original text, Fogg discusses but dismisses the idea of using a hot air balloon to travel. The image was only made famous by the 1956 film of the same name, directed by Michael Anderson.

Why would Anderson choose to deviate from the novel and entrench the image of Phileas Fogg in a hot air balloon so deeply in the popular imagination? Probably because he knew that hot air balloons evoke a spirit of adventure – they are associated with calming, charming, old-world of transportation, and people find hot air balloons delightful.

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