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History of Hot Air Balloons

April 24th, 2009

Hot Air Ballooning was was the earliest form of manned flight. In essence it has changed little in over 200 years, with the same principles of lift still derived from a big envelope of hot air. Obviously, safety and materials have improved a thousand-fold, with modern hot air ballooning now proving to be a very popular pastime and sport for tens of thousands of people. Its safety record is unmatched in any other form of aviation.

The first balloons were made of paper, and the heat was provided by burning straw and paper in an open fire beneath the balloon. You can imagine the hazards of sparks flying up into the paper envelope! Many early pioneers were lost to accidents of this nature, but modern fabrics and burners have all but eliminated such risks today. Modern balloons are manufactured from nylon and flame retardant fabrics, whilst the heat is provided by highly efficient and safe propane burners.

One aspect of construction that has changed the least, is the continued use of wickers and cane in the construction of the baskets. Although modern day baskets are built around a stainless steel frame, the space within the frame is still filled with woven cane panels. Immensely strong, flexible and light, it is a tribute to these natural materials that they can still satisfy modern demands for strength, durability and appearance.

Timeline of ballooning history:
1783, November 21st. First manned flight, Paris, France. Brothers Joeseph and Etienne Montgolfier.
1785, first crossing of the English Channel. Pilots, Jean Pierre Blanchard (FR) & John Jefferies (USA).
1793, first flight in USA. Pilot Jean Pierre Blanchard flew in front of George Washington.
1932, Auguste Piccard flies to Stratosphere, reaching 52498 feet.
1960, Joe Kittinger reaches 102000 feet, then parachutes to Earth, falling at speed of sound!
1978, Double Eagle II becomes the first balloon to cross the Atlantic – no it wasn’t Richard Branson!
1981, Double Eagle V crosses Pacific – no it still wasn’t Mr B! He comes along much later!
1987, Per Linstrand & Richard Branson cross Atlantic in a hot air balloon.
1999, Brian Jones & Bertrand Piccard (grandson of Auguste) fly round the world in 22 days!