Man's fascination with flight launched many dramatic adventures in the early days, some ending in disaster as gravity won over ingenuity. Leonardo had some great ideas but it wasn't until 1783 when the Montgolfier brothers balloon recorded the first successful hot-air balloon flight over Paris.
Gas ballooning provided a simpler and more effective means of lift for nearly two centuries. Then modern materials like bottled gas and synthetic fabrics made it possible to safely and efficiently build and fly the hot-air balloon, or Montgolfiere, once again. Now everyone can experience lighter-than-air travel for themselves.
An Englishman, Henry Cavendish, using a combination of sulphuric acid and iron, discovers hydrogen.
Jaçques Charles launches The Globe, an unmanned hydrogen balloon, which traveled 15 miles and reached an altitude of 3000 feet. The balloon landed in Gonesse where the locals attacked the balloon with pitchforks, destroying it.
September 19th, 1783
A sheep, a duck and a rooster become the first passengers in a hot air balloon. The Montgolfier brothers, Jaçques Etienne and Joseph Michel, launched a balloon made of paper and cloth after Louis XVI had decreed that the first flight should be flown with animals. The balloon rose to about 6000 feet, and landed safely.
November 21st, 1783
The first recorded manned flight in a hot air balloon takes place in Paris. Built from paper and silk by the Montgolfier brothers, this balloon was piloted on a 22 minute flight by Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis François-Laurent d'Arlandes. From the center of Paris they ascended 500 feet above the roof tops before eventually landing about 6 miles away in the vineyards. Local farmers were very suspicious of this fiery dragon descending from the sky. The pilots offered champagne to placate them and to celebrate the flight, a tradition carried on by balloonists to this day.
December 1st, 1783
The first manned gas balloon is launched by Jaçques Alexander Charles and Nicholas Louis Robert. Starting in Paris, the flight lasted 2 1/2 hours and covered a distance of 25 miles. Upon landing, Robert stepped out of the basket, which caused the balloon to rise again, this time to about 9000 feet. Charles later landed safely. Today, in France, gas balloons are known as Charliers and hot air balloons are known as Montgolfiers.
January 19th, 1784
In Lyon, France, the only recorded flight by Joseph Montgolfier is made in a balloon that had a cubic capacity of over 700,000 cubic feet. This would equate to a passenger capacity of around 30 people! It was one of the largest balloons ever made. The flight only lasted 20 minutes due to a rip in the fabric.
September 15th, 1784
An Italian, Vincenzo Lunardi, makes the first balloon flight in England. The 18,000 cubic foot balloon flew from the Artillery grounds at Moorfields and landed in Long Mead, near Ware. His passengers included a dog, a cat and a pigeon (in a cage).
November 30th, 1784
Launching their balloon from Rhedarium Garden, London, another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Blanchard and an American, John Jeffries, make their first flight. On January 7th, 1785 the same team of Blanchard and Jeffries became the first to fly across the English Channel.
June 15th, 1785
The first casualties from ballooning occur when a hybrid gas/hot-air balloon piloted by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and his passenger, one M. Romaine catches fire and explodes while attempting an English Channel crossing. Today, hybrid balloons (using a combination of gas and hot air lift) are known as "Roziers".
January 9th, 1793
The first flight of a balloon in America occurs in Philadelphia from the Walnut Street Prison Yard and is piloted by Jean Pierre Blanchard. Blanchard had also flown the first ascents in Germany, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.
American aeronauts, including Charles Durant, Thaddeus Lowe, John La Mountain, Rufus Wells and John Wise continue to design, construct and fly both gas and hot air balloons.
Jaçques Garnerin celebrates Napoleon's coronation by launching an unmanned balloon, ablaze with lights from the city of Paris. Unfortunately, it crashed into a statue of Nero outside of Rome, which was considered a personal insult by Napoleon. During this same time frame, Joseph Gay-Lussac flew to about 20,000 feet and recorded scientific observations of the atmosphere.
Tethered gas balloons are used by both sides during the American Civil War for observation of troop movements. Balloons had been used for this purpose as early as 1794 in France.
Balloons are used to carry refugees and mail out of Paris during the siege of that city by Prusso-German forces. One hundred people escape, along with over 2 million letters.
Swedish aeronaut Salomon Andree makes an attempt to reach the North Pole in a balloon named Eagle. A message sent by carrier pigeon on the third day was the only news. Thirty three years later, the remains of the crew were discovered by Norwegian explorers.
James Gordon Bennett, a New York newspaper owner, sponsors a silver trophy for a long distance international balloon race. The first race started in Paris, and was won by an American, Frank Lahm, who landed after 22 hours in Yorkshire, England. By the terms of the race, the winner's country was the host for the next year's race, which was held in St. Louis in 1907. Twenty six races were held between 1906 and 1938, in six different nations. The race was revived in 1979 and continues today as the premier gas balloon race in the world.
Auguste Piccard invents the airtight cabin, based on the bathysphere, enabling him and an assistant to ascend to 51,775 feet. In 1932 he flew to 53,152 feet to study cosmic rays.
October 3, 1934
Jeannette Piccard, pilots a balloon with her husband Jean (Auguste's twin brother) aboard to 57,579 feet for cosmic ray studies and lands safely.
November 11, 1935
A. W. Stephens and O. A. Anderson reach a height of over 74,000 feet in a huge (3.7 million cubic feet) helium balloon Explorer II. They launch from the "stratobowl" in South Dakota, later to be the scene of the first successful modern hot air balloon flight. For the first time in history, it is proven that humans can travel and survive in a pressurized chamber at extremely high altitudes. This flight sets a milestone for aviation and paves the way for future space travel and the concept of manned flight in space. The highly publicized flight is also able to carry live radio broadcasts from the balloon.
Don Piccard, son of Jean and Jeannette Piccard, used a military surplus Japanese gas balloon for what was probably the first post-war free balloon flight, ushering in the modern era of ballooning. Mr. Piccard made his first balloon flight in 1933.
Commander Malcolm Ross and Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather of the U.S. Navy ascend to 113,739.9 feet in 'Lee Lewis Memorial,' a polyethylene balloon. They land in the Gulf of Mexico where, with his pressure suit filling with water, and unable to stay afloat, Prather drowns.
Double Eagle II, a helium balloon carrying Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, becomes the first balloon to cross the Atlantic. A new duration record is set with a flight time of 137 hours.
First Balloon to Cross the Pacific: Thirteen-story high Double Eagle V, piloted by Ben Abruzzo, Larry Newman, Ron Clark and Rocky Aoki of Japan, launches from Nagashimi, Japan on November 10 and and lands 84 hours, 31 minutes later in Mendocino National Forest in California. A new distance record is set at 5,768 miles.
First Solo Transatlantic Balloon Flight: Joe Kittinger flies 3,535 miles from Caribou, Maine to Savona, Italy in his helium-filled balloon 'Rosie O'Grady's Balloon of Peace.'
First Hot Air Balloon to Cross the Atlantic: Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson fly a distance of 2,900 miles in 33 hours and set a new record for hot air ballooning. The balloon, at the time, is the largest ever flown at 2.3 million cubic feet of capacity.
Hot Air High Altitude Record: Per Lindstrand sets a solo world record of 65,000 feet for the greatest height ever reached by a hot air balloon.
First Hot Air Balloon to Cross the Pacific: Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson become the first to traverse the Pacific by hot air balloon, reaching speeds in the jet stream of up to 245 mph, in their 'Otsuka Flyer,' which travels 6,700 miles in 46 hours. They fly from Japan to Arctic Canada and break the world distance record.
Duration Record Set: Richard Abruzzo, son of previous record-breaker Ben Abruzzo, and Troy Bradley, now currently making his own around-the-world bid with his 'Odyssey' project, fly 144 hours, 16 minutes from Bangor, Maine to Morocco in a De Rozier balloon.
First Solo Transpacific Balloon Flight: February 14-17, Steve Fossett, another around-the-world contender with his Solo Challenger project, launches from Seoul, Korea and flies 4 long days to Mendham, Saskatchawan, Canada.
On March 21st 1999 Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard completed the first successful round the world circumnavigation by 'Brietling Orbiter'.
Steve Fossett achieved the first solo circumnavigation of the world on 2nd July 2002.