Saturday, March 1, 2008

the first hot air balloons

The history of the world took a strange and epoch-making turn on 21st November 1783. For it was on that day that human beings first voyaged through the air and landed safely to tell the tale. The feat was greeted with amazement and admiration and the air age was born  one hundred and twenty years before the Wright brothers flew their powered aeroplane at Kitty Hawk. The balloon was invented in its practical form by the brothers Montgolfiere, papermakers at Annonay, near Lyons. After making paper bags and seeing them rise over the kitchen fire, they build a bigger model and launched it in public in 1783. Then they came to Paris in the same year and constructed their full-scale balloons to carry up animals (19th September) and then human travellers. At first they cautiously tested their inhabited vehicle when safely tethered. Then an order from the king decreed that criminals should be the world's first aeronauts. But this was happily rescinded and two volunteers were found in physician Pilatre de Rozier (as pilot) and the Marquis d'Arlandes, who thus became the first airmen of history. The ascent, as the engravings shows, took place in the gardens of the Chateau de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne and ended safely after a flight over Paris of five and a half miles, which lasted for twenty-five minutes. The balloon was magnificently decorated in blue and gold with the signs of the zodiac round the crown and round the equator the intertwined royal cipher  alternative with the head of the sun-god Apollo surrounded by rays. The hot air balloon or Montgolfiere as this type came to be called was first suspended limp between the two masts seen here. A fire was then lit beneath the hole in the platform and the balloon was inflated. At the last minute, a brazier was slung inside the neck so that heat could be maintained during the voyage. The two aeronauts stood in the circular gallery round the neck and could stoke or damp down the brazier through portholes. In the same year, 1783, was also invented by Professor J A C Charles, the hydrogen balloon, which soon became the most practical aerial vehicle and was know as the Charliere. This was the type of balloon, which, with few alterations, has persisted until our own day, using hydrogen, coal gas or helium as the lifting medium. The main visual characteristics of the Charliere were the envelope (gas-bag) and the car or basket, which was suspended from a net, which enveloped the bag above.

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