The Race Is On!

From the first flight by human passengers in October 1783, adventurers quickly vied to outclimb, outrace, and outthrill each other and their adoring fans waiting on the ground or chasing the “aerostations,” as the French called them, all over the countryside. The Montgolfiers didn’t have much to do with the new wave of Hying mania, however. Only one of the brothers, Joseph, ever flew in a balloon, and he did it only once. Having given aviation a single important push, the Montgolfiers went back to making paper and left the flying to a new breed of adventurer.

The Race Is On!

Plane Talk

Not everyone took kindly to the new-fangled flying machine* of the Montgolfier* and other*. The fint untethered hydrogen balloon flight, which wa* mercifully unmanned, drifted *ome 15 mile* away from it* launch *ite, where it came to earth in the hamlet of Gone**e. (Jnaccu*tomed to *eeing giant ga* bag* plopping down in their usually quiet street’, the panicked inhabitant’ set upon the balloon with knivc* and itonct, slashing the rubber-coated iilk envelope to ihred*.

As other flyers took to the air, it became clear that aviation was to become a nearly unending chain of men and women pushing the boundaries of human flight. Just a week after the flight from the Boulogne forest, two men lifted off from the Tuilleries

in the heart of Paris in a balloon filled with hydrogen rather than heated air. They floated more than 20 miles to the town of Nesles. More than 400,000 cheering people witnessed the takeoff, including Ben Franklin (who seems to have been everywhere in Paris).

The balloon technology race had been launched. Aeronauts were quick to reach greater heights and farther distances. Naturally, the English Channel, which separated England from the continent, was among the first challenges to be conquered. And using hydrogen, other aeronauts were reaching altitudes above 10,000 feet. In the 1800s, some even attempted to motorize the giant ships with primitive gasoline engines, though those efforts would not succeed on a major scale until much later.

The Race Is On!

Plane Talk

A spectator at one of the early French hydrogen balloon demonstrations was Benjamin Franklin, who was then acting as American ambassador to Versailles. In one of those almost-too-perfect-to-be-true stories with which Franklin’s mythology is peppered, a nearby balloon watcher was heard to ask skeptically, "What good is it?" Franklin replied, "What good is a newborn baby?"

A brief political dispute known as the French Revolution sharply reduced the number of flights in Europe during the last decade of the eighteenth century. But in America, the pace picked up. The first person to fly in a balloon on American soil was JeanPierre Blanchard, whose 1793 flight in Philadelphia was witnessed by George Washington and four future presidents: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

Though the French made use of the infant balloon technology during their Revolution, it wasn’t until 1862 that Americans turned toward balloons for military purposes. During the Civil War, tethered balloons were used for reconnaissance of enemy troop movements—and probably as practice targets for bored enemy soldiers. In the Spanish-American War of 1898, a tethered balloon was used by American forces to direct artillery fire during the Battle of San Juan.

The Race Is On!

Plane Talk

Francois Pilatrc de Rosier, the first man to fly in an иntethered balloon, alto suffered the distinction of being the first man to die in one. During an attempt at a high-altitude crossing of the English Channel from France to England, his hydrogen balloon exploded and he was killed. De Rozier’s wife, who later became a noted aeronaut in her own right, was also killed in a ballooning accident in 1819.

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