Gliding majestically above Earth’s landscape from hundreds of feet in the air, hot air balloons have gained an almost mythical status in the world of aircraft. These flying works of art have captured the imaginations of public audiences for generations now, and just like anything with a storied history, many “facts” have become blown out of proportion over the years.
- For example, many people feel pretty confident when saying “hot air rises.” However, that’s a pretty simplistic way to describe what happens in a hot air balloon, and it certainly doesn’t get the matter completely right. The fire in a hot air balloon does heat the air so that it the balloon can rise. However, the rising action occurs because heat disperses the air inside the balloon. When this happens, the force of the air below the balloon, which is much higher than the balloon’s air pressure, begins to lift the balloon so that colder, higher density air can move into that space.
- Another misconception involves the first ever pilot of the hot air balloon. It is true that France’s Jean-Francois Pilatre De Rozier was both the first hot air balloon pilot and first victim of an aircraft crash. However, it didn’t happen on the same flight. As this article published by Mental Floss shows, De Rozier was a successful pilot for two years before an experimental hydrogen balloon he used to attempt the English Channel crossing exploded while in flight.
- Although De Rozier was the first pilot, the first hot air balloon flight was unmanned, but not unoccupied. In 1783, while Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette reigned in France, a hot air balloon was set a flight in Versailles carrying a sheep, a duck and a rooster to see the effects of air travel on living things. They traveled two miles 1,500 feet in the air for a total of eight minutes before returning to the ground unharmed.
- Champagne after a flight has become a time-honored tradition, but it was the early days of hot air ballooning in 18th century France that started the ritual. The French aristocracy found that farmers in the countryside were very frightened of these aircraft, sometimes mistaking them for dragons, and they were angered whenever they lost crops. Toasting the locals with champagne was a tradition born to thank the farmers for their land.
- Probably one of the most interesting pop culture misconceptions about balloons involves Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. Everyone assumes that a hot air balloon was used for at least some, if not most, of the travel because of film versions of this story. However, in the original book, a hot air balloon is never used, and is even dismissed as a dangerous option later on in the novel.
The world of hot air ballooning is full of interesting and quirky facts. Aerostat Promotions will gladly teach you about the history and future of our favorite mode of transportation. Happy flying!