The Montgolfier brothers and the first balloon flight (1783)

The Montgolfier brothers and the first balloon flight (1783)

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The Montgolfie brothersr are at the origin in 1783 of the first flight of a balloon hot air, with human passengers (including Pilâtre de Rozier) on board. The machine, built by Joseph and ÉtienneMontgolfier, papermakers from Annonay in Ardèche, had been presented to King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette a month earlier. The man who tries to fly from Icarus and Leonardo da Vinci, finally realizes his dream!

The first trials of the Montgolfier brothers

Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier, who we commonly call the Montgolfier Brothers, are passionate about airs and new machines. By doing some experiments, they find that hot air is lighter than cold air. Indeed, they had just inflated a shirt by holding it by the collar, above the fire in the fireplace. They then begin to imagine a 1m3 silk globe, which they heat above the fire and which takes off from 30m. We are in November 1782. On the strength of this conclusive test, they start again on December 14, 1782 with a 3 m3 balloon, then with an 800 m3 balloon in April 1783 which this time rises to 400m.

To avoid jealousy and to prove that they are at the origin of these trials and discoveries, the Montgolfier Brothers invite people of confidence and repeat their experiences in front of them, on the place d'Annonay on June 4, 1783: the balloon is of 900 m3 cotton sewn on paper, a basket is suspended, filled with straw and wool. The balloon flies up to 1000m, lands a little further in a field, but starts to burn, scaring the peasants. The Royal Academy of Sciences heard about it and asked them to do a demonstration in Paris.

Leaving their native Ardèche, the two brothers met the physicist Pilâtre de Rozier in Paris and made the first successful tests at the end of June 1783, then again a few days before the demonstration in front of the king, but the balloon was torn. In disaster, with the help of a friend Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, director of the Royal Manufactory of wallpapers, they prepare a new one with cotton canvas glued with paper. The ball called Le Réveillon measures 18.47m high by 13.28m wide for a weight of 400 kg, provided with an azure background decoration with the king's figures - 2 L interlaced - connected by various ornaments, all gilded.

The first flight before the King

The royal family as well as the whole Court are present in the forecourt of the Palace of Versailles, this September 19, 1783. The balloon does not leave empty: at the stroke of 1 pm, to the sound of the cannon, a sheep, a duck and a rooster ship in the round wicker basket. Eleven minutes later, with the second cannon shot, the basket is ready to go and rises to everyone's acclaim. Climbing 500m, it descends after eight minutes, having traveled 3.5 km, and lands in the wood of Vaucresson, victim of a tear.

The animals still alive are collected by Pilâtre de Rozier. the harmlessness of airborne flight has just been proven. Louis XVI will welcome these heroes at the Menagerie of Versailles: what a great reward! The adventure does not stop there. The Montgolfier Brothers think of a “human” theft, but the king forbids it, being responsible for his subjects. By dint of persuasion, Louis XVI accepts, but refuses to attend. On November 21, 1783, Pilâtre de Rozier himself climbed into the balloon built by the Montgolfier Brothers, accompanied by the Marquis D'Arlandes to balance the weight in the basket, in front of the dolphin at the Château de La Muette. They thus become the first men to fly! The 2400 m3 balloon made of a silk envelope 20m high and 16m wide, will land at the Butte aux Cailles (in the current 13th arrondissement of Paris) after about 25 minutes of flight for a distance of ten kilometers .

Later balloon flight experiences

Experiences and balloon flying are becoming fashionable. But it is also a competition between the best, and then a use during the war. In December 1783, Charles and Robert built an 800 m3 balloon filled with hydrogen, leaving from the Tuileries Garden to make a 36 km journey in two hours. This balloon is fitted with almost all current aerostatic equipment (net, appendage, valve, ballast).

In January 1784, a huge hot-air balloon nicknamed "Le Flesselles" 42m high, 24m in diameter and 27,000 m3, rose in the air, piloted by Pilâtre de Rozier, carrying six passengers including Joseph de Montgolfier, ennobled in the meantime by the king. Then comes the desire to cross the Channel! Pilâtre de Rozier then built a balloon inflated with hot air, with another small balloon inflated with hydrogen ... and left France in January 1785. But after a few minutes, the fire caught, the balloon fell and Pilâtre de Rozier becomes the first victim of the balloon flight.

In 1794, the soldiers using “captive” balloons, the Convention created the national aeronautical school of Meudon, on 10 Brumaire year III. The flights will not stop there, hot air balloons are abandoned, techniques will evolve, until the appearance of propane burners ...

For further

- The Montgolfier brothers and the invention of aeronauticsThe Montgolfier brothers and the invention of aeronautics, by Charles Coulston Gillispie. Editions Actes Sud, 2008.

- The Montgolfier brothers: The hot air balloon of 1783, by Alberto Borgo. sassi Sciences, 2018.

Video: History of Hot Air Balloon


  1. Muktilar

    The very valuable communication is remarkable

  2. Katilar

    It seems, it will approach.

  3. Fawwaz

    who says it is necessary to swing and watch the firebox then goes out

  4. Voodoogami

    The stones are burning! :-D

  5. Gilleabart

    All of the above is true. Let's discuss this issue. Here or at PM.

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