10th February 2023 | Human Nature, Tech stuff

Large air balloons have been in the news a lot recently so I thought it might be interesting to have a look at these specific types of aircraft and their history. They go back further than you may think.

The first air balloon with a human payload 

In November 1783, the first free flight carrying a human occurred in Paris, France. The flight was made in a hot air balloon made of paper and silk produced by brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier. Two brave men, Francois Pilatrê de Rozier and Francois Laurent, Marquis of Arlanders, were on board. They actually stood on a circular platform attached to the bottom of the balloon and hand-fed the fire [wool and damp straw] through openings on either side of the balloon’s skirt.

The balloon reached a height of at least 500 feet and travelled about 5½ miles before landing safely about 25 minutes later. Remarkable!

Legend has it that when they landed in the farming and vineyard area near Paris, the pilots gave bottles of champagne to the startled farmers and peasants. This to calm their fears of demons appearing from the heavens. This folklore cannot be confirmed.

In an earlier experiment, and at the blast of a cannon, a sheep, a duck, and a cockerel entered a round wicker basket tied to the balloon by a rope. Eleven minutes later a second cannon shot rang out, heralding the lift-off of the basket. Amidst stupefaction and applause, the balloon left the ground and soared 600 metres into the air. Damaged by a rip in the fabric, it descended slowly eight minutes later after travelling 3.5 km and came back to earth in the Wood of Vaucresson.

The animals survived and were given a place in the Menagerie in Versailles by Louis XVI.


The first hot air balloon flown in the Americas was launched from the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia on January 9, 1793. The pilot was the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard.  Blanchard became the first person to fly a hot air balloon in various countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Modern Balloons

Modern hot air balloons, with an onboard heat source, were developed by Ed Yost, beginning during the 1950s. This work resulted in his first successful flight on October 22, 1960. The first modern hot air balloon to be made in the United Kingdom was the Bristol Belle, built in 1967. Presently, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation.

A few records

Hot air balloons are able to fly to extremely high altitudes. On November 26, 2005,  Vijaypat Singhania set the world altitude record for highest hot air balloon flight, reaching 21,027 m (68,986 ft). He took off from downtown Mumbai, India, and landed 240 km (150 mi) south in Panchale. The previous record of 19,811 m (64,997 ft) had been set by Per Lindstrand on June 6, 1988, in Plano, Texas.

Steve Fossett, flying solo, exceeded the record for briefest time traveling around the world on 3 July 2002 in 320 h 33 min.

And then Fedor Konyukhov flew solo round the world on his first attempt in a hybrid hot air/helium balloon. This occurred from 11 to 23 July 2016 producing a round-the world time of 268 h 20 min.


A hot air balloon for manned flight uses a single-layered, fabric gas bag (lifting envelope), with an opening at the bottom called the mouth or throat. Attached to the envelope is a basket, or gondola, for carrying the passengers. Mounted above the basket and centered in the mouth is the burner. This injects a flame into the envelope, heating the air inside. The heater or burner is fueled by propane, stored in pressure vessels.

Modern hot air balloons are usually made of materials such as ripstop nylon or dacron [a polyester].


History Of Ballooning

[The USA National Balloon Museum is located at Indianola, Iowa]

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