Annonay - the First Balloon Flight, 1783
On June 5, 1783, the brothers Joseph and Etienne de Montgolfièr launch their balloon in the Vivarais area, from the square of the town of Annonay, France.
Made of paper-lined cloth, 110 feet in circumference, fastened with strings, it held 22,000 cubic feet of smoky hot gas. The flight lasted ten minutes and bore the balloon to its destination half a mile away, where it descended and deflated because it was losing gas through its buttonholes.
Versailles, a Sheep, a Cock and a Duck Are Airborne, 1783
September 1783, Versailles. A cock, a sheep and a duck fly suspended in a wicker cage from this Montgolfière balloon, which floated to 1700 feet for eight minutes before gently descending two miles away with all three animals alive.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette inspected the balloon beforehand, but the noxious smell of the damp straw, wool, old shoes and decomposed meat burned to generate the required gas obliged them to retire to a more remote vantage point.
First Manned Flight, 1783
King Louis XVI was afraid to imperil his citizens and wanted to send two criminals up in the first manned balloon - then pardon them in the remote contingency that they should land alive. But a young scientist, Pilâtre des Roziers, exclaimed: de vils criminels auraient les premiers la gloire de s'élever dans les airs. Non, non, cela ne sera point! So Pilâtre des Roziers and his influential ally François Laurent, the Marquis d'Arlandes, approached the Duchesse de Polignac, a governess to the royal children, who persuaded Marie Antoinette to sway the King on behalf of the hopeful aeronauts.
On October 21 des Roziers and the Marquis d'Arlandes ascended from the gardens of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne, residence of the Dauphin, who witnessed the event. Their Montgolfière balloon was 70 feet high, 46 feet in diameter with a 16-foot diameter neck, surrounded by a wicker gallery and balustrade. It was painted blue and gold with the Royal cipher and signs of the Zodiac. The balloon soared to 3000 feet, and flew 25 minutes for a distance of 9000 feet over Paris. In spite of several small fires which the brave aeronauts extinguished with sponges, it returned safely to earth on the Butte aux Cailles, south of Paris.
François Robert over Marseilles, 1783
The Physicist Jacques Charles of the Paris Academy, together with the brothers Ainé and Cadet Robert, produced the first hydrogen balloon, which they launched on August 27, 1783 in Paris. Perfectly spherical and, thanks to its gas valves, more controllable, this type of balloon soon eclipsed its predecessors in popularity. When Charles and Robert ascended from the gardens of the Tuileries on December 1, 1783, half the population of Paris, 400,000 people, assembled to watch.
This painting of a "Charlière" hydrogen balloon over Marseille was inspired by the image on a commemorative glass paperweight of the time, a present from my sister Anna Drago - who found it in Geneva.
Le Flesselles, 1784
Le Flesselles was the largest Montgolfière balloon ever made - 700,000 cubic feet. Pilâtre des Roziers, Joseph de Montgolfier and five passengers, noblemen who after a heated and undignified argument drew swords, defying anyone who tried to remove them (prudence dictated they should have been only four), made the first and only ascent on January 19, 1784. 100,000 people watched. Flames and smoke from its furnace terrified the crowd but, though short and perilous, the flight ended safely and the bold aeronauts attended Iphigenia in Aulis in Lyons that night.
Pilâtre des Rozier's Combination Balloon, 1785
Des Roziers attempted a channel crossing from Boulogne to England in an aerostat which combined hot air and hydrogen. A gas-filled sphere, 30 feet in diameter, sat atop a 21-foot high cylinder. This craft was the ancestor of the modern machines that cross oceans. The launch went well. But when the wind changed and the balloon changed direction, either an electrical discharge or a spark from its furnace fire ignited the envelope and the hydrogen. Des Roziers and his employee Romain perished. Thus the first man to fly was the first to die in an air crash.
Nadar's le Géant, 1858
A friend of Jules Verne, the pioneer French photographer and aeronaut Félix Tournachon, known as Nadar, took aerial photographs from a balloon. He envisioned the helicopter in 1863, writing that "the screw will be our aerial motor". In fact the balloon Géant was made to raise funds to finance flying machines. It stood 196 feet high. Its car was a wicker house 13 feet long and 8 feet wide with a balcony on its flat roof. In it were berths, luggage storage, a lavatory, a provision store, aerial photography equipment and a printing press and six cases of good wine. It also had detachable wheels. The famous aeronaut brothers Godard oversaw the construction.
The big balloon floated from France to Germany. At sunset the six passengers, including Mme. Nadar, enjoyed an excellent dinner on the balcony. But then the balloon went berserk because of ill winds, descending to the ground where it bounced along until it almost collided with an approaching train. Fortunately the train driver drew his locomotive to a grinding halt, avoiding a collision. However the balloon tore on, ending in a wood near the small town of Rethem, where it burst. Only Mme. Nadar was left in the car. Everyone else had fallen out, but all escaped with their lives. So ended the 400-mile flight, the longest ever made by the Géant.
John Wise's Atlantic, 1859
The American John Wise was a great aeronaut. He invented the rip panel and developed a theory that the winds at altitude are constant and predictable. His balloon Atlantic was built to ride these "jet streams" on trans-oceanic journeys. Jet streams are essential for modern-day aeronauts and helped speed the Breitling Orbiter 3 in its circumnavigation of the globe. On a test run John Wise travelled 1200 miles, from St Louis to Lake Ontario.
Auguste Piccard's FNRS Balloon, 1931
The Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard is the grandfather of Bertrand Piccard, who flew non-stop around the world in the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon. His son Jacques, Bertrand's father, rode his bathyscaph 35,800 feet down into the Pacific Ocean.
On May 27,1931, Auguste Piccard, together with Pail Kipfer, became the first to reach the stratosphere in a pressurized cabin. They rose through the air for almost ten miles, reaching an altitude of 15,781 metres.Their pioneer stratospheric balloon FNRS was a rich yellow to fend off the negative effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays on its rubber body. Its cylindrical metal cabin was white and black and was supposed to rotate to reflect or deflect heat from the cabin.
After collecting priceless information about the stratosphere for future airmen, the flight ended in the spiky Austrian Alps - where the capsule remained for a year until it could be retrieved.
Homage à Malcolm
The American publisher tycoon Malcolm Forbes loved the world and loved balloons. The balloons he created are masterpieces in themselves. They also commemorate his beloved objects and the many journeys he undertook.
His legacy of balloons include a motorcycle, the Château de Balleroy, a Scottish piper, an Indian elephant, a Chinese pagoda, a Fabergé egg, a Brazilian parrot, an American eagle, a Pakistani tower, a turbanned Turk and a sphinx.
Each year at his Château de Balleroy in Normandy he hosted a Fête des Ballons. I attended one year accompanied by my son Alex. I flew in a balloon directly below Malcolm who was calling down to me from his yellow sphinx balloon.
Château d'Oex Balloons
Called by Bertrand Piccard "the important place of my life"... The site of the launch, on March 1, 1999, of Breitling Orbiter 3 for its successful circumnavigation of the globe, the lovely village of Château d'Oex, in the Pays-d'Enhaut region of the Swiss Alps, is a mecca of hot air ballooning and has hosted the International Hot Air Balloon Week for 20 years.
Virgin Global Challenger, 1987
Per Lindstrand, a Swedish aeronautical engineer and jet pilot living in England, and Richard Branson, president of the Virgin group of companies (including Virgin Airlines and Virgin Records), had worked long towards a non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. In 1987, they were the first humans to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a Rozières hot-air balloon, the Virgin Global Challenger.
Breitling Orbiter 3, 1999
On March 1, 1999 Breitling Orbiter 3 took off from Château d'Oex in Switzerland for its daring attempt to be the first piloted balloon to fly non-stop around the world. Twenty days later it landed in the Egyptian desert, having triumphed in the greatest challenge of ballooning history.
A Rozière balloon, the 180-foot tall Breitling Orbiter 3 used a combination of hot air and helium with 32 tanks of propane fuel attached to the capsule. Switzerland's own Bertrand Piccard and England's Brian Jones defied treacherous storms, ill winds, immense oceans, frost, heat and sometimes loss of contact with their landbound team. In addition, China withheld permission to fly over that vast nation until the last minute - and even then the balloon wafted helplessly close to forbidden areas during its flight. Despite all odds the brave aeronauts were "guided by an invisible hand" and the "winds of providence" brought them to their triumphant touchdown 26,050 miles from their starting point.