First Manned Balloon Flight
The 15th of October 1783 AD
On June 4 1783 the Montgolfier brothers Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne carried out the first public demonstration of a hot air balloon, witnessed by crowds of their fellow-townsfolk in Annonay south of Lyon. The brothers were the sons of a successful paper-mill owner, and they had noticed how paper bags held open-end down near a fire tended to rise upwards. Increasing the experiment in scale they constructed paper balloons of ever greater size in paper and then paper and linen, heating them by burning paper suspended beneath the opening.
Having demonstrated the idea to the people of provincial Annonay using a balloon some 10m in diameter, which soared an estimated 2000m into the skies, they planned their next feat, which would be a flight using animals to test the safety of the exercise. The duck, sheep and rooster launched skywards in Versailles on September 19 1783 survived the experience: King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and a crowd numbering more than 100,000 were delighted by the demonstration. The next logical step was human flight: thus on October 15 that year the brothers (still it seems very wary) having enrolled Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes (possibly – it is not certain he made the first ascent) as test pilots released their huge – but tethered - balloon and its two passengers to rise 25m into the air. The first balloon flight carrying humans into the air had been accomplished.
A month later an un-tethered flight was made by the same daring men, travelling 9km from the centre of Paris to the outskirts. What was British reaction? It seems our first thought was that this was a potential military threat to our own country and to Gibraltar. And of course because it was French we laughed about it as if they were being silly. Plus ca change and all that.
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