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05
Jun 12

The high-flying history of Hot Air balloons


Hot air balloon is not the most traditional means of travel. It’s always been a vessel lacking in navigation, following where the wind takes it. So, that means, for most of its history, figuring out where you were in a hot air balloon was a tricky matter. Fortunately, it’s not that way today with the multitude of GPS enabled devices available.

GPS or not, the hot air balloon has had a rich history.

The winds have welcomed you with softness

The sun has blessed you with its warm hands

You have flown so high and so well

That God has joined you in your laughter

and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.

Accompanied by champagne, this traditional toast was recited after a successful hot air balloon excursion. However, Some say the champagne served another, non-congratulatory purpose: French aeronauts may have brought champagne along to smooth things over with those upset with an abrupt hot air balloon landing.

First Aeronauts (Image from daviddarling.info)

Here’s another fun fact: the first hot air balloon passengers were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. Today, June 5th, is the anniversary of their flight.

Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, two brothers, launched the inaugural flight from Annonay, France in 1783. The balloon was made out of a blend of linen and paper, and it flew about a mile from its starting point.

Montgolfier Brothers' Flight (Image from balloonadventureflights.co.uk)

Later that same year, the brothers Montgolfier were the first human pilots to man a hot air balloon. It flew for over twenty minutes, taking off in the center of Paris and landing outside of the city.

Jean Pierre Blanchard (Image from biography.com)

Two years later, Jean Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries were the first to cross the English Channel in a hot air balloon. It was a major milestone in the history of aeronautics.

Captain Joe Kittinger (Image from geekculture.com)

Captain Joe Kittinger set the altitude record in 1960 when he reached a height of 102,000 feet. But, that wasn’t his only accomplishment on that excursion. He jumped out of his balloon and parachuted down, setting the altitude parachute jump record.

Double Eagle II (Image from randytayler.com)

In 1978, a crew of three crossed the Atlantic by balloon. They were able to make the incredible voyage in 137 hours. The Double Eagle II had succeeded where many other balloons had failed in the past (though, it should be noted that it was by helium balloon, a more buoyant alternative to hot air).

Double Eagle V (Image from pbs.org)

The Double Eagle V balloon crossed the Pacific in 1981. Taking off in Japan, the flight lasted 84 hours, and landed in the Mendocino National Forest, California. Like the Double Eagle II, it was a helium balloon. It was another ten years before Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand crossed the Pacific by hot air balloon.

Orbitor (Image from bbc.co.uk)

The last great record, the balloon flight around the world, was accomplished in 1999. It was piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, and took a littles less than 20 days. They launched from Switzerland and landed in Africa.



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