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The history of the hot air balloon

24/12/2021 amy Features

Hot air ballooning has come on leaps and bounds since it first began over 200 years ago. Popular the world over, incredible achievements and records have been set in the mission to take balloons higher and further. Read on for a brief history of the hot air balloon.

First flights

In Paris, France on 21st November, 1783, a balloon made of paper and silk carried the first humans into the air. Designed by the Montgolfier brothers, the balloon travelled over five miles and rose to an altitude of more than 500 feet. The next year, in 1784, the first balloon flight took place over Edinburgh, piloted by James Tytler. Not long after this, the first balloon flight in England took place, with Italian Vincenzo Lunardi becoming famous for travelling 24 miles from London with a dog, cat and pigeon on board with him.

In 1785, French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries from America successfully flew a gas balloon over the English Chanel, which was considered the first step to conquering long-distance flights. This dream was truly met in 1836 when Charles Green flew The Great Balloon Nassau, 500 miles from London to Germany.

At war

In 1870, ballooning was used for the first time for war purposes. During the Franco-Prussian war, balloons were used for military observation, with a French minister making a dramatic escape out of Paris in one. Airships started to be built in the early 20th century. Hydrogen gas was used to inflate these blimps, and they were fitted with engines, propellors and flaps to help control direction and speed. Many were built for the military, and they were used during both World Wars as anti-aircraft weapons against enemy airplanes.

Modern ballooning

In 1960, the first propane burner was invented in America by Edward Yost, changing ballooning from gas power to modern hot air. Modern sport hot air ballooning was made possible because of this invention, and it became so popular that, by 1963, America held its first national hot air balloon championship.

During the 1970s and 80s, further developments in ballooning were made, with burners being made lighter and new synthetic materials being created. The sport continued to grow with these developments, and the first world championships were held in America in 1973. In 1978, three Americans took on the first transatlantic flight in a gas balloon and flew over 3,000 miles from the US to France. It took them just over 137 minutes.

Sir Richard Branson and Per Linstrand then went on to fly the largest hot air balloon ever in 1987 across the Atlantic, at a record time of 33 hours. Today, balloons that use a combination of both hot air and helium are used for many of the long-distance flights that take place. In 2002, Steve Fossett was the first person to fly solo around the world in balloon spirit of Freedom. The record took him 13 days and he travelled over 22,000 miles.

Hot air ballooning has a fascinating history with new innovations and new records being set at every turn. Who knows what incredible feats will be achieved next!

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