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|Fascinating Facts about Hot Air Balloons Scramble Squares®|
The first recorded manned flight was in a hot air balloon in Paris on November 21, 1783. Built from paper and silk by French brothers Joseph and Ettienne Montgolfier, the first manned balloon flight ascended 500 feet above the center of Paris with two noblemen from the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, floated across Paris for 22 minutes and came to rest in vineyards miles away. Local farmers were terrified when they saw the balloon’s fire above them as it descended from the sky, but were calmed when the Montgolfier brothers served the farmers champagne and celebrated the first of all human flight. It is a tradition to this day to serve champagne following a hot air balloon flight, a celebration that was not afforded to the Montgolfier brothers’ first balloon passengers two months earlier-- a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.
On September 15, 1784, the first balloon flight outside of France was made by Italian Vincenzo Lunardi, who flew his 500 cubic meter balloon above England from the town of Moorfields to the town of Ware. Another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, and an American, John Jeffries, became the first humans to fly across the English Channel on January 7, 1785. Eight years later, on January 9, 1793, Blanchard launched the first balloon flight in North America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The official birth date of the modern hot air balloon is October 10, 1960 when the Raven prototype, a 30,000 cubic foot envelope made of polyurethane coated nylon was lifted over Bruning, Nebraska by hot air heated by a propane gas burner. By the 1970s ballooning had become a sport in the United States and in England and soon spread to Australia. This growing sport held its first U.S. national championships in 1963.
The balloons used for passenger flights today are made of rip-stop nylon, a very safe and reliable material for the envelope, and use a LPG gas burner to heat the air in the envelope. Balloonists usually lift off within two to three hours after sunrise, when the winds are most calm. During the middle of the day, the development of thermals can be highly dangerous for the balloonist, so they try to land their balloons no later than four hours after sunrise. Although the cooler seasons are the more popular times for ballooning, the time of year is much less a factor than the time of day.
Before a hot air balloon flight begins, small pilot balloons, called “pibals” for short, are released into the atmosphere to help the balloonists determine the wind directions and speeds. The uninflated balloon is then placed onto a tarp to protect it from getting ‘snagged’ as it is being stretched out. The propane burner is attached to the basket, which is lying on its side, and the basket is attached to the balloon. The balloon is then inflated with motorized fans. Once the balloon is filled with air, the propane burners are ignited to heat the air inside the balloon. As the air heats, the balloon begins to rise, soon pulling the basket upright and aloft. Hot air balloon pilots don’t have any way of controlling the direction of their flights; they go wherever the wind takes them until the pilot finds a suitable landing area and allows the balloon’s air to cool so that the balloon descends.