The History of Hot Air Ballooning

The history of hot air balloons begins over 230 years ago when a French scientist famously sent up a balloon carrying a sheep, a duck and a rooster and the balloon stayed in the air for a grand total of 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground.

Later, the French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier developed a hot-air balloon in Annonay, Ardeche, France, and demonstrated it publicly on September 19, 1783, .Then the birth of Hot air ballooning begin!!!

Just 2 years later in 1785 a French balloonist, Jean Pierre Blanchard, and his American co pilot, John Jefferies, became the first to fly across the English Channel. In these early days of ballooning, the English Channel was considered the first step to long distance ballooning so this was a large benchmark in ballooning history.

Unfortunately, this same year Pilatre de Rozier (the world's first balloonist) was killed in his attempt at crossing the channel. His balloon exploded half an hour after takeoff due to the experimental design of using a hydrogen balloon and hot air balloon tied together.

The next major pivotal point in balloon history was on January 7th 1793. Jean Pierre Blanchard became the first to fly a hot air balloon in North America. George Washington was present to see the balloon launch.

Hot air ballooning fell out of favor for about 150 years due to the advancement of lighter-than-air gas ballooning and the perceived danger of burning stuff to provide heat and thus lift for the balloon.

In the late 1950s, Ed Yost took on the challenge of reviving the manned hot air balloon. While early hot-air balloons flew due to heating the air in the balloon on the ground, or with an on-board fire,  Yost's key engineering insight was that a hot-air balloon could be made to carry its own fuel. The invention of relatively light burners fueled by bottled propane made it possible for the balloonist to reheat the air inside the balloon for a longer flight. Yost’s invention improved modern hot-air balloons into semi-maneuverable aircraft. 

Yost took the first modern hot air balloon flight on October 22, 1960 in Bruning, Nebraska flying for one hour and 35 minutes.

In 1987 Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand were the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon, rather than a helium/gas filled balloon. They flew a distance of 2,900 miles in a record breaking time of 33 hours. At the time, the envelope they used was the largest ever flown, at 2.3 million cubic feet of capacity. A year later, Per Lindstand set yet another record, this time for highest solo flight ever recorded in a hot air balloon - 65,000 feet!

The great team of Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand paired up again in 1991 and became the first to cross the Pacific in a hot air balloon. They travelled 6,700 miles in 47 hours, from Japan to Canada breaking the world distance record, traveling at speeds of up to 245 mph.

Finally, in 1999 the first around the world flight was completed by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. Leaving from Switzerland and landing in Africa, they smashed all previous distance records, flying for 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes.

It's interesting to see how the development of the hot-air balloon has gone full circle on itself. At the very start, the first balloonists burnt materials onboard the balloon to generate heat to propel the envelope into the air. This theory then became obsolete as gas and helium designs were introduced as it was considered safer and more reliable than flying with an open flame. It is only within the last 60 or so years that hot air balloons have come back into interest.

Note: Text from eballoon.org and wikipedia.org