7 interesting facts about hot air balloons

Hot air balloons have always fired our minds. They were the first form of flight technology to successfully carry us, and ever since then, our bond with ballooning has spawned many unusual incidents.

From farmyard passengers, to duels to the death among the clouds, a multitude of intriguing tales are linked to this tranquil and, today, extremely safe form of transportation. The following is a selection of facts that might explain why these magnificent airships continue to arouse our imaginations:

1. Around the world in 20 days

In March 1999, Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard launched the Breitling Orbiter 3 hot air balloon from a village in Switzerland and landed in a remote region in the Egyptian desert, covering a distance of over 46,670 km. The journey took just over 19 days to complete, making it the first example of a non-stop flight around the globe with a free balloon.

2. Towering 26 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty

What better way to celebrate the success of aviation than the creation of a giant hot air balloon in the shape of a NASA space shuttle? At 177ft high, The Patriot is the world’s tallest hot air balloon on record – and that’s before it’s even got off the ground!

3. The first pilots of hot air balloons were nearly the condemned

Not wanting to sentence innocents to death, Louis XVI of France decreed that criminals whose lives were already forfeited should be on board. Fortunately for them, Jean-François Pilâtre De Rozier and his co-pilot François Laurent d’Arlandes petitioned the king for the honour. In doing so, the duo became the first men to fly in a hot air balloon.

4. Astounding heights

Hot air balloons are capable of ascending to astonishing heights, with a world record of 69,850 feet held by Vijaypat Singhania, who launched his balloon from Bombay in India.

5. Duel in the skies

The year 1808 saw Monsieur de Grandpre and Monsieur le Pique fight a duel over an opera dancer called Madame Tirevit. The men created identical balloons, and once airborne, fired their loaded blunderbusses not at each othe,r but took aim instead at their opponent’s balloon. Grandpre proved the victor with his shot collapsing le Pique’s balloon and ending his life in the ensuing crash.

6. Farmyard in flight

The first hot air balloon flight was manned not with humans, but by a sheep accompanied by ducks and roosters. A land creature, the sheep represented the potential effects of flight on people and the fowl, already capable of flight, were present for controls in the experiment. The balloon remained tethered for its eight-minute, two-mile flight and the animals were unharmed.

7. Fizz for the farmers

The origin of post-balloon flight champagne is steeped in superstition. Local farmers were filled with fear at the sight of balloons arriving in their fields on account of their unusual appearance and the smoke these earlier incarnations often belched. It’s also likely they weren’t pleased about their crops being crushed by the French nobles enjoying the sport. Champagne was introduced by way of apology, and the tradition began.

These fascinating facts show how the rich and growing history of hot air balloons enthrals us, and will no doubt continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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