The sky’s the limit…

Most of us are used to travel around the world on these big jets and take them for granted.
We tend to forget that aviation had to start somewhere, with more modest crafts and that Man tried for centuries to conquer the sky.

In France hot air balloons are known as Montgolfières as they were named after their inventors, the Montgolfier brothers.

Figure and exact proportions of the “Aerostatic Globe”, which was the first to first carry men through the air – Source Photo Wikimedia Commons

The Montgolfier brothers made their first public test on 4 June 1783 in front of a group of dignitaries from Annonay, the town where they grew up in the south of France.

Their first balloon was made of sackcloth lined with three internal layers of paper. It covered 2km in 10 minutes at an approximate altitude of 1600m-2000m.

The success of this first experiment encouraged the wallpaper manufacturer Réveillon to collaborate with them. His workshops produced a 1060m3 envelope of taffeta coated with a varnish of alum, a chemical compound known for its fireproof qualities.

The brothers were able to conduct their second test on 11 September in the eastern outskirts of Paris.

The third demonstration took place in the grounds of the Château de Versailles and in front of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette! Still no passenger onboard, but a sheep nicknamed Montauciel –Climb to the Sky, a duck and a rooster placed in the gondola! This third flight lasted 8 minutes and covered 3km at an approximate altitude of 460m.

It was time to create a Montgolfière that would carry human beings! A much larger hot air balloon with a capacity of 1700 cubic meters was therefore produced once more with the help of Réveillon.

The tethered hot air balloon took off on 15 October. It worked!

The first untethered manned flight was made by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and marquis Francois d’Arlandes , the following month on 21 November 1783. The hot air balloon took off from the grounds of the Château de la Muette in the western outskirts of Paris.

The two men flew over 9 kilometers at an altitude of 910m. They landed after 25 minutes near the current Place d’Italie.
They had enough fuel to fly four or five times farther but the embers generated by the fire were scorching the fabric.

This was the beginning of one of Man’s greatest adventures… the conquest of the sky!


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About the author

I am French Parisienne and lived in Asia for nearly 20 years before settling in the UK 3 years ago. I have an interest in everything and every culture and am an avid reader. French linguistics is my "specialty" but I have a passion for history and try to mingle them. Humour is very important to me, I love writing, talking, laughing, exchanging ideas, learning more from others... the world is full of fascinating people! I never leave my home without my camera, there is always something unusual, beautiful or strange to capture. I like to pay attention to details, to the world of the "small", a parallel world if you take the time to look for it...And above all, I love my country of birth, France.