It all started over 224 years ago when Joseph Montgolfier of Annonay in Southern France proclaimed to his brother Etienne, “Procure me some taffeta and rope and I will show you something that will astonish the world!” His announcement was not as pompous as it may have sounded. The Montgolifiers had discovered the lighter-than-air principles that had baffled the great minds of Europe for centuries.
On June 5 1783, the brothers staged a public demonstration of their discovery, using a linen balloon some eleven metres in diameter, inflated over a fire of damp straw, old shoes and brandy-soaked rags. On September 19, that year, the Mongolfiers inflated a balloon at Versailles in front of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The first passengers were a sheep, a rooster and a duck and the flight lasted eight minutes.
The first manned flight was made two months later on November 21, when Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Marquid d’Arlandes flew a balloon, with a ‘brazier’ suspended beneath the canopy to keep up the heat, for 25 minutes at an average altitude of 3000 feet. It is this historic flight that is remembered as the world’s first successful ascension by man. To this day, a balloon in France is called a ‘Montgolfier’.
Marie Antoinette dubbed ballooning ‘The Sport of Gods’ and many dismissed this bizarre form of flight as a useless eccentricity of the aristocratic classes. Others though, saw its great potential, so despite the sceptics, the revolutionary age of ballooning had begun…