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Posted by on Aug 6, 2017 in Tell Me Why |

When Was the First Gas Balloon Used?

When Was the First Gas Balloon Used?

The first gas balloon, filled with hydrogen, was released in Paris in August, 1783 which was designed by a French professor of physics, Jacques Charles and Les Frères Robert, it carried no passengers or cargo. Two months earlier, the first hot air balloon was sent aloft by the Montgolfier brothers, Jacques, Etienne and the Joseph, of France, and it was with balloons of this type that the first manned flights were made. 

On December 01, 1783 a rubberized silk balloon filled with hydrogen carried Professor Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert on a flight of 27 miles which rose to 2,000 feet, 10 days after the first manned flight in a Montgolfier hot air balloon. The next project of Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers was La Caroline, an elongated steerable craft that followed Jean Baptiste Meusnier’s proposals for a dirigible balloon, incorporating internal ballonnets (air cells), a rudder and a method of propulsion.

On September 19, 1784 the Montgolfier brothers and M. Collin-Hullin flew for 6 hours 40 minutes, covering 186 km from Paris to Beuvry near Béthune. This was the first flight over 100 km. Ballooning became a popular sport in spite of the fact that hydrogen-filled balloons were always liable to catch fire. Some amazingly long trips were undertaken, including an unsuccessful attempt in 1958 to cross the Atlantic.

Balloons play an important part in meteorology, the science concerned with the weather. The first aerial photographs were taken from balloons, and in the 1930s pressurized cabins or gondolas were designed enabling observers to rise over 60,000 feet into the stratosphere. Military observation balloons fastened to the ground by cables came into use at the end of the 18th Century and were employed by both North and South in the American Civil War (1861-1865). The Austrians used pilot less hot air balloons to bomb Venice in 1849.

military observation balloons

During the Franco-German War of 1870-1871 balloons transported mail and carrier pigeons. Barrage balloons tethered to the ground were used in the Second World War to provide barriers against low-flying enemy aircraft. Gas balloons remained popular throughout the age before powered flight. They could fly higher and further than hot-air balloons. Gas ballooning has been popular in Europe, most notably in Germany, using hydrogen as a lifting gas. Several gas balloon clubs exist throughout the country with well organized launch sites and well defined infrastructure making flights relatively easy to do. Rough estimates show 150 active gas pilots in Europe.

barrage balloons

In stark contrast, gas ballooning in the USA might have at most 30 active pilots who typically fly only once a year at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in October. This is primarily due to the prohibitively high cost of helium (~$8,000 for a single flight as of 2008), the lifting gas that most American pilots must use because of the design of their balloons. This is starting to change with the introduction of hydrogen as a lifting gas, but there are still only a handful of hydrogen-rated balloons in the country.

The German gas community has been a valuable resource in helping the US pilots gain skills in flying gas balloons and working with hydrogen as a lifting gas. Many US gas pilots have been and are currently participating in training flights in Germany. Aerophile is the world’s largest lighter-than-air carrier, flying 300,000 passengers every year through its eight operations in Walt Disney World, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Smoky Mountains & Irvine in the USA and Paris, Disneyland Paris and Parc du Petit Prince in France.

Content for this question contributed by Michael Hunter, resident of Greensburg, Decatur County, Indiana, USA