November 21st 1783, a flight to change history

21 Nov 2022

Today is a big day in the ballooning world. Internationally, it is commonly called Montgolfier Day in memory of the Montgolfier brothers, the French simply call it the first human balloon flight.

On November 21st, 1783, Man flew for the first time in the air thanks to a strange flying machine called “Montgolfière”, or “hot air balloon”. That day, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlande made history forever. This first balloon journey made by men had a huge impact, the news stirring the whole world.

For us, this day is a symbol. Without this November 21st, 1783, there would be no hot air balloons. No pilots. No passion and no GEMAB! Our lives would be totally different!

This day marks forever the history of aeronautics. Following this flight of Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, Man has been able to develop airships, airplanes, rockets and who knows what the future holds?

But before taking the plunge, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Montgolfier brothers advanced step by step, test after test. This first flight was not done in one day. Here is a reminder of the key dates that allowed Man to conquer the air:

  • 1782: The brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier experimented with producing hydrogen by pouring vitriol on scrap metal. They try to enclose it in paper bags, but without success.
  • November 1782: Joseph dries his shirt, inflates it by holding it by the collar above the fire in his fireplace, he immediately thinks he has just made an incredible discovery! With his brother Etienne, they begin to work on their future invention…
  • December 14th, 1782: They repeat their experiment: a cubic envelope of one cubic meter inflated by a fire of wool and wet straw flies away at about thirty meters of altitude. The fire produces a thick smoke, because they think, by analogy with the clouds, the smoke is responsible for the elevation.
  • April 25th, 1783: A balloon of 800m3 and 225kg composed of cotton canvas lined with thin paper sheets rises to an estimated height of 400 meters. The test is conclusive!
  • June 4th, 1783 : A demonstration flight is organized in Annonay. The taffeta globe, inflated with a fire of straw and wool, rises in the air up to 1000 meters high and lands 10 minutes after the flight at 2 kilometers. It is the first balloon flight in history!
  • September 19th, 1783: The first inhabited flight is realized with a sheep, a duck and a rooster. The demonstration took place in front of Louis XVI and the royal family, in the forecourt of the Château de Versailles. The animals were recovered safe in Vaucresson, 3 km away, after a flight of 3 to 8 minutes.
  • October 15th 1783: First human free flight in a captive balloon. Pilâtre de Rozier inflates the balloon and rises to the end of the ropes (25 meters long, duration 4 minutes and 25 seconds). Pilâtre begins to handle the balloon well, feeding the fire of the hearth with straw to control the rise or the descent of the balloon.
  • October 19th 1783: 4 days later, the experiment is repeated with this time a height of rope going up to 108 meters.
  • November 21st 1783: First human flight in a hot air balloon. Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes rise from the Château de la Muette in Paris in front of the Dauphin. After 25 minutes of flight and an altitude of 1000m reached, they landed at the Butte aux Cailles. A page of the history of humanity is turned!

We will celebrate the 240th anniversary of this first flight at Grand Est Mondial Air Ballons 2023!

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