November 21, 2017
From the moment people could harness their imaginations, there has been no greater desire than to be able to soar like birds, high above the ground. Today, of course, we find air travel utilitarian and, perhaps, a bit mundane. But on November 21, 1783, it was anything but mundane when two Frenchmen, Jean-François Pilâtre deRozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes, became the first humans to travel in a ship through the ‘air.’
DeRozier can credibly be dubbed the father of flight. He became interested in chemicals, specifically gases and how they reacted and interacted; he parlayed his obsession to a career as a teacher and scientist and, as such, opened a museum for nobles to come and witness his experiments.
When, in June 1783, he observed a tethered balloon ‘flight’ of a duck, a sheep and a cockerel, his desire to fly was ignited.
From the infallible Wikipedia:
“After several tethered tests to gain some experience of controlling the balloon, DeRozier and d’Arlandes made their first un-tethered flight in a Montgolfier hot air balloon on 21 November 1783, taking off at around 2 p.m. from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne, in the presence of the King. Their 25-minute flight travelled slowly about 5½ miles (some 9 km) to the southeast, attaining an altitude of 3,000 feet, before returning to the ground at the Butte-aux-Cailles, then on the outskirts of Paris.”
By all accounts, DeRozier was fearless and continued his experiments with what we know as ‘hot air balloons.’ Several successful balloon flights followed and, in June 1785, he took on his most ambitious journey which was to travel from France to England across the English Channel. Because of the distance involved, DeRozier determined that using just hot air (powered by stoves set up in the balloon basket!) would not be enough to make the journey. Instead he developed his own balloon – called the DeRozier Balloon – which was powered by use of hydrogen fuel to heat the air. By all accounts it should have worked. But a sudden change in wind direction pushed the balloon back, and caused it to rapidly deflate. It plummeted 1500 feet to the ground, killing DeRozier and the two others onboard.
The accident ended the adventurer’s life and research, but the “modern hybrid gas and hot air balloon is named the Rozière balloon after his pioneering design.”
So the next time you fly remember how very far air travel has advanced in just 234 years.
Update November 21, 2020: I was so very fortunate to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in 2018. What an incredible experience! It was a visual feast of balloon, after balloon. Although I did not get to ride in one, it was fascinating to watch as wave after wave of balloons puffed up to life and lifted into the sky. If you ever have a chance to attend such an event, I highly recommend it.
To read more about DeRozier and balloon flight:
And a general history of Balloon flight: http://bellestar.org/faq/default.html