Ballooning 2000


4 June 1783
Annonay, France: the first flight of a hot air balloon according to eye witnesses, the brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier managed to reach a height of 110 ft, the balloon had a volume of 22.000 m3 and the hot air was obtained by burning a mixture of straw and wool in a vat. Eight men were needed to hold the ropes steady, until Etienne Montgolfier gave the command to release, one member of the board of Vivarais shouted to the crowd of well wishers “Today we French have invented flying”.

19 September 1783

Versailles, France: The first balloon take off to be observed by King Ludwig XVI, his court and more than 130.000 wildly enthusiastic patrons. In the basket were a chicken, duck and a sheep, it took eighteen minutes to fill the Balloon with air and it remained afloat  for eight minutes after which all animals were returned safe and sound back to the earth, with one exception, the chicken was found to have a broken wing probably caused by a kick from an over anxious and probably frightened sheep!.

21 November 1783
Paris, France: The first manned flight of a hot air balloon. Take off point was the Chateau de la Muette, the balloon itself measured 70 ft in height, with a diameter of 40 ft and a volume of 60.000 feet3. It was oval in shape and was painted in the colours of the king of France.

The balloon took off at 13.45 h and landed at 14.19 h. It reached a height of 1000 metres and covered a distance of 10 kilometres. On board were Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis Francois Laurent d`Arlandes, both noblemen. The first manned flight by peoples of the opposite sex quickly became the object of much gossip! The French airman Garnerin took off with just himself and the beautiful Comtesse Henni on board, such flights were, however, at the time strictly forbidden in Germany.
The police, it was said, feared the worst for her “delicate female organs” and had expressly forbidden the flight. Garnarins amusing reaction to this prudishness was to sent up his balloon once again, this time with a naked female dummy in the basket.

At the world fair in Paris 1778 a massive gas balloon with a volume of 25.000 m3 was
introduced, it’s basket was large enough to hold up to 35 people. The balloon was fastened to the ground by long ropes which allowed it to rise up well above the Paris roof tops and offer’s it 35.000 passengers a breathtaking view of the French capital from above. Gustav Eifel must have been most impressed by this view, for some eleven years later in 1889, he built a very high tower offering a splendid view.
This gas balloon filled with either hydrogen or illuminating gas was to be the first air to air observation platform and at the same time a scientific laboratory for cartography. It also quickly became the focus of military interest.

Notre Dame de Montgolfier

The picture opposite was given to Jean-Marc Culas by an 85 year old Bulgarien man who died shortly afterwards. Airmen the world over know precious little about this guardian angel who is said to watch over them, her name is Notre-Dame de Montgolfier. The little holy statue itself originated from Oran (Algeria) but nobody knows where it is  today.


The book “Romantic Ballooning” by Jean-Marc Culas is an illustrated wander through the history of hot air ballooning.



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Balloon – expedition

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