History of Gas Ballooning
Several of the 20th century’s most famous gas balloonists were based in Albuquerque, which is proud to be called the hot-air ballooning capital of the world. Among the adventurers who chalked up record long-distance gas flights were Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, who became the first to cross the Atlantic in their Double Eagle II. But the history of their sport has its roots in Europe in the 1700s, where several people experimented for years with the idea of putting people in flight.
Gas ballooning finally took off in 1783, within months of the first-ever unmanned hot-air flight. This new science of aviation was born in France, about the same time the United States was wrapping up its War of Independence against England.
Those first balloon builders, French papermakers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, used heated air to make their craft rise. Not fully understanding the principles of lighter-than-air flight, they thought smoke from a straw fire did the trick. From the date of an early public flight in 1783 With a balloon carrying a duck, a rooster, and a sheep -- hot-air balloons have been called the Montgolfier type.
It took a real scientist, Parisian physicist Jacques A.C. Charles to figure out that other gases that are lighter than air should cause balloons to rise. He believed that hydrogen would work as a lifting gas, and he found engineers who could make fabric air-tight by rubberizing it. For Professor Charles’ first flight, which also was unmanned, it took three days to fill the balloon with hydrogen, but it finally flew to the cheers of a crowd in Paris. Gas balloons are still called the Charliere-type in honor of their developer.
Human flight began with a daring young man who had helped recover the animals from the Montgolfier flight – unharmed except for the rooster, whose wing may have been hurt during the rough landing in a tree. Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, working with a friend, the marquis D’Arlandes, convinced the skeptical French king to let them be the first human aeronauts. They took off on Nov. 21, 1783, and landed safely 25 minutes later. The dream of human flight had finally become a reality.
Ten days later, Professor Charles flew in his gas balloon. He had already solved the most important problems of balloon flight. From his time until today, the tube under the balloon, called the appendix, would remain open in flight, and he added a valve that let pilots fly lower by letting gas out of the balloon. His Dec. 1, 1783, flight went 27 miles. Today’s gas balloonists use many of the professor’s methods, which included using sand for ballast.