After a ferocious fire, the Montgolfier brothers in Paris, watched as huge chunks of debris rose high into the air. They wondered if they could contain such heat in some sort of vessel, wouldn’t it lift them-into the air? It was exciting to think of flying. They experimented with materials and built a balloon made of linen and paper. (Daddy was a rich paper manufacturer.) They attached a basket to it. Dug a hole in the ground. Lit a fire in a metal bucket in the basket and up it went. Bigger, and bigger they built until they were about to launch themselves when they were summoned by a sympathetic King Louis, who was aware of their experiments and warned them: How do you know the air high off the ground is breathable? They sent up a rooster, a duck and a sheep. It flew; the animals lived and the Montgolfier brothers took their first flight with one attending the fire made from wool soaked in alcohol, putrid meat, chipped straw and manure while the other used a wet rag on a pole to put out embers that could burn holes in the balloon. In fact, Benjamin Franklin was present at the launch.
A competitor, also from Paris, Jacques A.C. Charles, filling his balloon with hydrogen, missed being first to fly by 10 days. But he flew several kilometers, and when his helper was tossed out of the balloon he became the first person to make a solo flight by accident. The lighter-than-air gas balloon was less controllable. When the gas cooled it slowly drifted to the ground.
A ballooning frenzy took over Europe and soon everyone with means was flying about and building bigger and better balloons.
Women were encouraged to enjoy the sport and did. Marie Blanchard became the first woman to become a professional aeronaut. She flew for Napoleon and then for the Court of King Louis the XVIII. Baptisms and other affairs were celebrated by tossing bon bons to the people watching the spectacle from below.
The Anderson-Abruzza Albuquerque National Balloon Museum is a fun, wonderful place to visit. It has numerous activities for children to experiment with ballooning. It takes you through the history of flight with the emphasis on “air ships.” Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin built the first rigid air ship. His transportation company was a success and flew over a million miles before the tragic explosion of the Hindenburg.
The hang gliding craze started in the 1960’s. The flyer jumps off a cliff and is suspended beneath rigid wings and floats with the air currents to the ground. This flyer launched from Mt. Sandia where we rode the Tramway up the mountains several days ago.
The Paraglider is actually a flying parchute that fills with air at launch. It is comfortable, easy to use and can be controlled with steering lines and a brake.
Ballooning became useful for other reasons. War time surveillance, silent and undetectable. During WWII, Japan launched 9,300 balloon bombs toward the United States. They were meant to start forest fires and panic. About 6,000 of them made it. Most of them were found in the Pacific Northwest. One made it to Michigan. Weather balloons and other experiments, still depend on the common balloon.
Balloon photography is unique. The photographer can get amazing detail, close to the subject, with the ability to focus from any angle on the subject below.
The Museum also serves as a Who’s Who in ballooning circles and a ballooning hall of fame. I had never heard of adventurers such as Steve Fossett. He holds world records in balloons, airships, airplanes and gliders. He made five unsuccessful solo attempts to circumnavigate the globe surviving a harrowing fall of 29,000 feet into the Coral Sea. He finally made the first circumnavigation in 2002 in 14 days, 19 hours and 51 minutes. As you can imagine, it takes more than a basket to make a trip like that.
Typical living quarters for distance flights are shown in the Orbiter.
Albuquerque’s weather and wide open spaces attracted balloonists. A sort of competition was set up by some balloonists I think it was in 1975. It has grown to become the world’s biggest ballooning event in the world. And people from all over the world come to compete. The next National Balloon Competition is set for the first nine days of October, 2012. I intend to be there to watch 700 balloons go up in the air together. Watching the festival is almost as much as flying in one.