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The History of Hot Air Balloons

Hot air balloons above lavendar field

For anyone who has viewed the takeoff of hot air balloons at dawn, they know what an amazing sight they are to behold. As they fill the sky with various sizes, colors, and shapes that range from whimsical to classic, hot air balloons put both children and adults in awe. When looking at balloons in flight one might wonder who invented the first balloon and what the first flight was like. A closer look at ballooning history can help to answer those questions. Discovering hot air balloons and how they work will also help those who are interested in taking a flight in one.

Hot Air Balloons of the Past

The first hot air balloon flight took place in the late 1700s. This voyage did not, however, involve human passengers. Instead the flight carried a duck, a rooster, and sheep over France for a total of eight minutes. This was carried out by two brothers by the name of Montgolfier and it took place in September of 1783. The first manned flight of a hot air balloon was also courtesy of the Montgolfier brothers. This flight took place in November of the same year and had the approval of King Louis XVI. The passengers on-board were friends of the brothers by the names of Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurnet. This flight took the passengers several miles away from Paris and traveled at 500 feet before landing safely in vineyards.

Today's Hot Air Balloon Uses

Today's hot air balloons are used for a number of purposes that are more recreational in nature. Common activities include commercial flights for couples or corporations, and even weddings. Some hot air balloons are used for promotional purposes and advertise at events. Hot air balloons are also used for sport in the form of competitive balloon racing. These races are held across the U.S. and in other countries as well.

Hot air balloons above the bay

How They are Made and How They Float

Hot air balloons consist of three major parts. These parts include the burner, the envelope, and the basket. The envelope is the part of the balloon that is most visible. It is made of fabric and is often a rounded shape, although creative balloons are also made in the shape of cartoon characters or even promotional shapes such as a can of soda. This part of the balloon traps the hot air and has three parts to it - the parachute valve, gores, and panels. At the base of the envelope is the skirt and the parachute valve cord which opens the valve. When the parachute valve is open hot air is released and the balloon slows, or according to the amount released it begins to descend. The burners heat up the air that rises into the parachute using flames and are situated below the skirt and the opening of the envelope. This burner heats air to 212 degrees Fahrenheit which causes the balloon to rise. The basket holds the pilot, passengers and propane tanks. This is at the very bottom of the balloon.

Hot Air Balloons in Wartime

Hot air balloons are not typically associated with wartime use, particularly not as far back as the Civil War. In reality, both the Union Army and the Confederate Army employed hot air balloons for the purpose of spying on the opposing side. The Union was the first to create a balloon corps which led to some success. The air balloons for both armies were frequently shot at, and upon occasions shot down. The hot air balloons that were used to gather intelligence set the ground work for future and more advanced air surveillance.