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Balloons were, in their time, the most significant inventions of human flying devices; their importance lay in the fact that it was impossible for men to rise from the surface of the Earth and travel through the air.
Beginnings of the Hot Air Balloon
Although recent research has shown that on August 8, 1709, the Brazilian priest Fray Bartolomeu de Gusmao made the first demonstration of unmanned hot air balloon ascension before the court of King John V of Portugal and was persecuted by the Inquisition for witchcraft, the first ascensions, universally admitted, are those carried out by the Montgolfier brothers.
Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier lived in Annonay (France), where their family owned a paper mill, and made the first experiments with balloons in 1782 inspired by the observation of the ascent of smoke from chimneys. On June 4, 1783 the Montgolfiers held the first public exhibition of their discovery in their hometown. The balloon, unmanned, was a spherical sack, made of linen and lined with paper, 11 meters in diameter and weighing about 226 kilograms and reached a height of 1830 meters.
The Montgolfiers were invited to perform a demonstration before the court of Louis XVI at the Palace of Versailles on September 19 in which a basket was tied to the balloon containing a lamb, a hen and a goose, the first air travelers, who were unharmed. These balloons inflated by hot air, which descended when cooling, began to have the name of "montgolfiere" or "mongolfiera".
In Spain, the first unmanned ascent was carried out by Agustín de Betancourt y Molina, founder of the Escuela de Caminos y Canales, before the Royal Court on November 28, 1783.
On November 21, 1783 the physicist Francois Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlendes were the first men to perform a long free flight with a balloon rising up to 1000 meters high flying for 25 minutes and covering a distance of almost 10 kilometers, closely followed by the French cavalry, who rescued them from a lynching by the peasants of the place where they landed, believing them to be some kind of witches.
Jacques Alexandre César Charles, for his part, perfected his hydrogen balloons together with the Robert brothers with a method to rubberize the silk fabric making it completely waterproof and allowing to carry on board human beings. Thus, on December 1, 1783 Charles and one of the Robert brothers were the first men to fly in a hydrogen balloon from Paris in a flight of 43.5 kilometers distance in just over two hours, reaching an altitude of 3000 meters. During this ascent Charles made measurements of the air temperature at different altitudes as well as the variations in barometric pressure.
Historical Balloon Flights
The success of flights with Mongolian and hydrogen balloons quickly multiplied the number of ascents and crews in France and other countries.
The first altitude record for a normal hydrogen balloon ascent was set in September 1862 by the British meteorologists Coxwell and Glaisher, reaching an altitude of 8840 meters. On April 15, 1875, thirteen years later, Gaston Tissandier and his two companions Silvel and Croce-Spinelli, aboard the Zenith balloon reached 8000 meters, but the lack of oxygen caused the latter two to die, arriving alive to land, very exhausted, Gaston Tissandier. In 1932, the Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard made an ascent up to 16201 meters inside a sealed capsule, for its complete watertightness and suspended under a free balloon, which was the first flight in the stratosphere of a human being. On May 4, 1961, Malcolm D. Rosson made a stratospheric ascent to 34668 meters. It was not until March 1, 1999, when the Breitling Orbiter 3, piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, achieved another great challenge, the round-the-world balloon flight in a voyage that lasted 20 days.
Initially, the "lighter-than-air" aerostatic flight had some fundamental shortcomings. Among them the impossibility or extreme difficulty of guiding it (hence the emergence of airships), which made it remain at the mercy of air currents and unforeseen wind shocks, but offered great practical possibilities in both the military and scientific fields.
Today's hot air balloons owe their development to advances in technology, both in the construction of the sail or envelope, as in the use of fuel and burners, all this to put a balloon in flight in less than half an hour. Today the use of balloons or aerostats has been relegated to three activities: meteorology, advertising and as tourist or sports air transport.
First, the use of aerostats in meteorology by which it is possible to measure the pressure, temperature and atmospheric humidity as the balloon ascends. Scientifically this is the most important utility that develop the balloon probes, so called.
In the advertising field, hot air balloons and dirigibles are very attractive visually by their shapes, colors and especially, to see them fly. That is why they are widely used as a means of visual impact and commercial claim.
But the most outstanding field in which we can find these first flying devices is as a tourist activity of adventure, sport and leisure. It is a booming sport, which increasingly has more followers. Ballooning is one of the things you should try at least once in your life. Important worldwide events take place every year in many countries. Highlights include competitions in Bristol (England), Chateau D'Öex (Switzerland), Saga (Japan) and Albuquerque ballon competition USA, where balloons of the most varied sizes, colors and even the most incredible shapes are seen flying.