Over the weekend, I watched the wonderful HBO mini-series, John Adams. The story of the American Revolution is exciting and moving, and the character portrayals in the series are so vivid. You really get the sense that these were real people, with all their good and bad points, strengths, weaknesses, hopes and desires.
One of the scenes that caught my attention was the one in which Thomas Jefferson, Abigale and John Adams watch the ascent of a hot air balloon, joined by commoners and court members dressed in silks and satins, powdered wigs. Jefferson looks filled with hope; Adams is typically skeptical. The musical score, composed by Joseph Vitarelli, truly sets the tone of the scene. We are transported, we ascend as well. It's time to not only marvel along with the observers at this great event, but to get out the Kleenex box! Things will never be the same!
And so, the hot air balloon is the oldest, successful manned technology for flight! On November 21, 1783, the first manned and untethered flight was performed, carrying Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d'Arlandes into the air above Versailles, with King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette watching along with everyone else. The balloon was built in December 1782 by the Montgolier Brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne. The Montgolier family actually were paper manufacturers and their company still exists today.
The Chinese of ancient history actually utilized the concept of hot air to float lights in the air, about 250BC, and there were other attempts to lift small things, but nothing like an entire structure with passengers! The Montgolfiers first tried an unmanned flight, lasting 10 minutes, in September of 1783, a tethered manned flight achieved in October, but the climax was in November with the two men ascending, looking down on the crowd below, without a safety net, so to speak. Funny thing, but King Louis wanted to send a couple condemned criminals up for the test flight, but the idea soon sank, with de Rozier and d'Arlandes petitioning for the honor of being the first.
Take a look at the beauty of the scene:
By the way, the first military use of the balloon was at the battle of Fleurus in Europe, 1794, the aircraft being used for an observation post!