Hot air ballooning history can be traced back to the 13th
century Roger Bacon, the great English friar and philosopher,
who wrote that man could fly if he was fastened to a large hollow
ball of thin copper, filled with liquid fire or air. As centuries
passed other dreamers postulate similar ideas, but it remained
for the Montgolfier brothers of France to reduce the dreams
to reality. They learned how to put a pan of burning charcoal
beneath a hole in a large cloth bag. In September of 1783, with
King Louis XVI watching, they put a duck, a rooster and a sheep
in a basket slung beneath their cloth balloon. These landmark
creatures, an early-day version of Ham, the intrepid monkey
who was rocketed into space nearly two hundred years later,
flew for eight minutes and landed unharmed.
Plans were made for a man to
fly the balloon. Louis offered a condemned criminal for the
maiden flight but his historian, Pilatre de Rozier, said it
would be an honor to be the first and he requested permission
to make the flight. Ballooning history records that on October 15, 1783, he became the first
man in space, as it were. He stayed in the air for 4 1/2 minutes
at an altitude of 84 feet, the length of the tethering rope.
Multitudes of inventions and
quantum leaps in technology have been made since that red
letter day. Practically everything man uses has been invented
or improved since then. Everything, that is, except the hot
air balloon. It is the same basic mechanism the Montgolfiers
devised, improved only in detail; propane burners being substituted
for charcoal and nylon replacing the paper lined cloth bag.
True enough, it is more sophisticated, more maneuverable and
much safer mechanism, but the idea of it all has not changed.
Hot air weighs less than cold air and when it is confined
in a balloon, the balloon goes up.