Hot Air Ballooning History
History reveals that man has always wanted to fly. Early cave drawings show man attempting to fly with wings. It wasn't until the curiosity of two brothers named Joseph and Etienne Montgolifier would flight for man be possible.
Joseph and Etienne were in the paper manufacturing business, and developed a new paper which was a combination of paper and silk. When they watched paper burn they noticed that little pieces of unburned paper and ashes would rise into the air. They were very fascinated by this phenomenon. They decided if they could capture this air man would be able to use this to fly.
At first they thought that most of this "magical power" came from smoke. Then they discovered if they captured the smoke in just the right way within small bags, the bags would eventually rise into the air. Later they figured out if they made a large "bag" containing enough of this "magical power," it could ascend high into the sky lifting considerable weight. At that time they didn't realize why heated air made a "Balloon" rise into the sky. We now know that when air is heated it becomes less dense inside the balloon than the air outside the balloon allowing it to rise.
The first hot air balloon flight was conducted by the Montgolfier brothers from Annonay, France on June 5, 1783. The envelope was made of linen and paper. The unmanned balloon had a volume of 23 thousand cubic feet and the air within was heated from a fire on the ground. The first passengers were actually a pig, duck, and rooster. The Montgolfier balloon flew 1 mile from the starting point. On November 21, 1783, Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis d'Arlandes made the first manned flight in a Montgolfier balloon from the center of Paris to the city's suburbs.
Also in 1783, on August 27th, a French chemist Jacques Charles invented a different type of balloon that used hydrogen to get its lift. Hydrogen had just been discovered several years before and was very explosive. These gas balloons competed very effectively with hot air balloons for many years.
Basically there were very few advances to ballooning for about 150 years. People then became interested in fixed wing aircraft (airplanes). The rebirth of ballooning occurred in 1960. Gas ballooning was expensive and the balloons were hard to control. Ed Yost developed basic techniques that made hot air ballooning practical. He built a balloon made of nylon and heated the air inside the balloon with a propane burner. Even though the balloon was primitive, Ed Yost is considered to be the father of modern day ballooning.
One of the most important improvements to hot air balloons is the parachute valve, sometimes called the deflation vent, located at the top of the balloon. Yost's balloon used a rip vent, a seal which could not be resealed and let all of the air escape at once. Then Tracy Barnes of The Balloon Works developed the parachute valve, that when pulled down by a line would let some of the air out of the balloon. The remaining air inside of the balloon caused the valve to push back upward and reseal itself in the top of the balloon when the line was released. This allowed pilots to open and close the valve during the flight if necessary to control their altitude and land with air remaining in the balloon.
There have been many improvements in fabrics and other equioment since than. Today, all our balloons at Butterfly Balloons are 100% Hyperlast because of its durability and ability to keep the temperature high. The burners are much more efficient and quiter.
All of these improvements along with good pilot training have made hot air ballooning one of the safest forms of air travel.
In 1978, the Double Eagle II became the first balloon to cross the Atlantic, another major benchmark in the History of Ballooning. After many unsuccessful attempts this mighty Ocean had finally been cracked. It was a helium filled model, carrying 3 passengers, Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman. They set a new flight duration time at 137 hours.
The first Pacific crossing was achieved 3 years later in 1981. The Double Eagle V launched from Japan on November 10th and landed 84 hours later in Mendocino National Forest, California. The 4 pilots set a new distance record at 5,678 miles. 3 years after this, Captain Joe Kittinger flew 3,535 miles on the first solo transatlantic balloon flight, setting yet another record.
In 1987 Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand were the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon, rather than a helium/gas filled balloon. They flew a distance of 2,900 miles in a record breaking time of 33 hours. At the time, the envelope they used was the largest ever flown, at 2.3 million cubic feet of capacity. A year later, Per Lindstand set yet another record, this time for highest solo flight ever recorded in a hot air balloon - 65,000 feet!
The great team of Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand paired up again in 1991 and became the first to cross the Pacific in a hot air balloon. They travelled 6,700 miles in 47 hours, from Japan to Canada breaking the world distance record, travelling at speeds of up to 245 mph. 4 years later, Steve Fossett became the first to complete the Transpacific balloon route alone, travelling from Korea and landing in Canada 4 days later.
Finally, in 1999 the first around the world flight was completed by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. Leaving from Switzerland and landing in Africa, they smashed all previous distance records, flying for 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes.
It's interesting to see how the development of the the hot air balloon has gone full circle on itself. At the very start, the first balloonists burnt materials onboard the balloon to generate heat to propel the envelope into the air. This theory then became obsolete as gas and helium designs were introduced as it was considered safer and more reliable than flying with an open flame. It is only within the last 50 or so years that hot air balloons have come back into interest.