The History of Hot Air Ballooning
On September 19, 1783 Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a scientist, launched the ‘Aerostat Reveillon’, the worlds first hot air balloon. The passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster and the balloon stayed in the air for a grand total of 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground.
The first manned attempt came about 2 months later on November 21, 1783, when Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes launched a balloon made by two French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier from the center of Paris and flew for about 20 minutes.
Two years later in 1785 a French balloonist, Jean Pierre Blanchard, and his American co-pilot, John Jefferies, became the first to fly across the English Channel. In these early days of ballooning, the English Channel was considered the first step to long distance ballooning so this was a large benchmark in ballooning history.
Unfortunately, this same year Pilâtre de Rozier (the world’s first balloonist) was killed in his attempt at crossing the channel. His balloon exploded half an hour after takeoff due to the experimental design of using a hydrogen balloon and hot air balloon tied together.
The next major pivotal point in balloon history was on January 7, 1793. Jean Pierre Blanchard became the first to fly a hot air balloon in North America. George Washington was present to see the balloon launch as well as future presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.
Over 100 years later, in August of 1932, Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard was the first to achieve a manned flight to the Stratosphere. He reached a height of 52,498 feet, setting the new altitude record. Over the next couple of years, altitude records continued to be set and broken every couple of months and the race was on to see who would reach the highest point.
In 1935 a new altitude record was set and it remained at this level for the next 20 years. The balloon Explorer 2, a gas helium model reached an altitude of 72,395 feet (13.7 miles)! For the first time in history, it was proven that humans could survive in a pressurized chamber at extremely high altitudes. This flight set a milestone for aviation and helped pave the way for future space travel.
The Altitude record was set again on August 16, 1960 when Joe Kittinger, a U.S. Air Force Captain, parachute jumped from a balloon that was at a height of 102,000 feet. The balloon broke the altitude record and Captain Kittinger, the high altitude parachute jump record. His free-fall lasted 4 minutes and 36 seconds.