Airplanes have revolutionized travel and communication, but the first true hot air balloons were a lot of fun. They were able to fly high above the clouds and keep people in the air for hours on end. But what made them so special?
It’s hard to believe that something so small could have such a big impact. But that’s exactly what’s happened with hot air balloons.
These balloons were once the stuff of fairytales, a popular form of entertainment in the 19th century. People would climb into a basket on the back of a hot air balloon, which would lift them into the air and allow them to see the earth from above.
But this was not the end of the journey. The balloon would then take them to a destination of their choice.
The evolution of the hot air balloon
The hot air balloon is a relatively new invention, and it has only been in use for about 200 years. Before the invention of the balloon, and for a long time afterward, the only way to travel long distances was by foot or by horse.
(The idea of using a balloon to carry heavy loads is said to have first been used by the Assyrians in the 6th Century B.C..)
Most people understand that hot air balloons are big, round, bright objects that move through the sky. But there is a little bit more than that.
The first balloons used animals like sheep and kangaroos to fill them up with hot air, but this is very dangerous and inefficient.
The first hot air balloon, the dirigible, was created by the Montgolfier brothers to carry their scientific experiments aloft. Soon after, the first hot air balloon to be used commercially was created and filled with hot air.
The first experiments: birth of the hot-air balloon
Ten years earlier, the invention of the hot-air balloon had been released into the public domain, giving life to an entire industry of people who would become known as “Balloonists”.
However, these early attempts at flying were fragile and dangerous. On July 7, 1783, a team of French engineers and scientists began the first experiment in a series of attempts that would lead to the hot-air balloon’s evolution.
The Montgolfier Brothers
The Montgolfier brothers, designed and built in 1783, were the two French brothers who, in late 1783, built the first heavier-than-air manned balloon. The Montgolfier brothers were the first to build and patent a mobile hot air balloon.
They used a box of soap-paper and heated air, which they carried inside a large bag. They made several ascents, including one on September 14, 1783, in which the brothers made a tethered ascent of 3,500 feet in the open air.
The Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon was the first manned hot air balloon. It was followed by other important experiments, and it was the first of many important advances in technology including early trains, the steam engine, and early automobiles.
Hot-air balloons decline
The hot-air balloon industry has been plagued by problems ever since it was created. The first hot air balloon was made in France in 1783, and since then the industry has barely changed.
Now, 146 years later, the industry is still on its feet, and it is still trying to reinvent itself. But with the latest problem, the hot-air balloon industry has taken a major blow.
As the world’s first commercial hot-air balloon flight was over 100 years ago, hot-air balloons have flown over our heads for decades. Despite the vintage of this traditional method of transport, hot-air balloons have continued to see a decline in their popularity.
While their price tag, which can reach up to £25,000, may be a factor, the real reason behind this decline in popularity is that there are far more practical and innovative methods of transport.
Hot air balloons on Military services
With the help of hot air balloons, the military was able to practically control the weather and launch surprise attacks during World War I.
The first airborne military mission was carried out in April 1917, by British Royal Engineers during the Battle of Arras. Since then, hot air balloons have played a key role in many military operations.
90’s hot air balloons
Since hot air ballooning’s inception in the early 1900’s, the craft has evolved in a number of ways, but one of the most noticeable changes has been the materials used to build the craft.
One of the first balloons to prove itself as a viable craft, the Scott and Ira National Hot Air Balloonists Association’s first flights were made from a variety of materials, including cotton, wool, silk, and rubber.
By the 1920’s, however, most were made from a combination of rubber and paper, which proved to be a viable choice for the craft. Today, a combination of these elements is the most common choice.
20th Century hot air balloons
Over the next century, hot air balloons continued to gain popularity, but they were still confined to the wealthy during the first half of the 20th century.
In the early 1950s, French airman Jacques Piccard flew the first balloon to flight beyond the stratosphere and his family continued to make use of hot air balloons to explore the world in a truly unique way.