Eighteenth Century Ballooning

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Eighteenth Century Ballooning

In a time where the skies are full of aircraft, it is hard to

imagine a time when air travel was nothing but a dream. That was

just the case during the early eighteenth century. The dream of flight

was so concentrated on winged flight that ballooning was actually and

accidental discovery. The shift to alternate opportunities to fly

occurred in 1766 with the discovery of hydrogen. Henry Cavendish

discovered the gas he coined the “inflammable gas.” At that time this

meant that the gas was highly combustible, unlike today’s

interpretation of inflammable. What made this gas so important was

the fact that the gas was much lighter than the atmosphere. The

lighter gas would give the balloon lift in the surrounding atmosphere,

hopefully taking a human along with it. The new discovery brought a

lot of excitement to the pursuit of air travel. The discovery began to

move forward in 1774 with Joseph Priestly’s publication of

“Experiments and Observations with Different Types of Air.” This

paper explored uses of the gas and further explained its properties for

future experimentation. In 1777, the paper was translated into

French and read by Joseph Montgolfier. The paper inspired

Montgolfier to further explore the possibilities of the gas. Montgolfier

and his brother Etienne began experimenting with the gas in hopes of

coming up with a device to give them flight. This became a reality in

1786 when the two brothers were able to fly small cloth and paper hot

air filled balloons. This was the small and modest beginning to hot air

balloon flight.

The brothers had some complication to work out with the first

flights being experimental. They used dense smoke from burning

chopped wool or damp straw to lift the balloon. The smoke idea most

likely came from a concept left over from the medieval times. They

believed that smoke had more of a virtue of lightness, and lighter

meant that the balloon had a better chance of flight. Another

possibility is that the brothers believed that the dense smoke would

simply be better contained in the balloon. Some individuals even

believe that the brothers used thick smoke to conceal their ideas.

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