There were two brothers who were paper merchants – Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier. They noticed that when they burned paper, small scraps would be carried aloft by the smoke. They figured the smoke must have some sort of mystical lifting power, so they did some experiments by filling paper bags with hot, smoky air. They’d release them and watch them float away. They figured they could build a bag large enough to carry a man aloft, but since man had never left the earth, they didn’t know if man could survive up there. They decided to fly some barnyard animals first. A rooster, a sheep, and a duck as the first creatures to fly in one of their floating bags. These animals were selected to see if there was any difference in the way each reacted to being carried aloft. They put the animals in a cage which was suspended underneath a big bag filled with hot, smoky air. It was released, and they chased it to its landing. The landing was no where near as gentle as ours – the farmer who witnessed the landing reported the cage tumbled quite a bit during the landing but the animals survived.
Armed with their success, they went to the King of France to ask for him to pay to build a balloon large enough to carry a man. The King thought this would be a crowning glory for France, and agreed to pay for the undertaking as long as the balloon carried him.
The two brothers set out to build the balloon – it was about the size of the balloon we flew in today – but it was quite different. It was built out of paper maché and lined with linen. Remember that they thought it was the smoke that was giving them lift. Instead of the passengers riding in a basket suspended under the balloon, it had a very wide base with a platform around the outside. There was a railing to keep them from falling out. This is where the two men stood for the flight.
Realizing this was a very risky undertaking, the King first thought it best to place two convicts onboard. It would be no loss if they were killed, and if they survived they would be granted full pardons. Upon further reflection, it was realized that if they did survive they would go down in history as the first men to ever leave the earth. Of course this was recognition that no convict deserved, so the prisoners stayed in prison and two brave noblemen, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes, volunteered for the flight.
On November 21, 1783 from a courtyard in the middle of Paris. They dug a deep pit and filled it with chicken feathers, wet straw, anything they could find that would make the thick, black smoke they thought was providing the lift. Soon the balloon was straining at its ropes – the two men jumped aboard, the ropes were cut, and off they sailed. History was made!
The balloon flew about 25 miles outside town This was a full day’s ride by horse or by carriage in the late 1700’s. Without the benefit of television, radio, and the internet, the people that far away from Paris had no idea what was going on back in town. All they knew as they looked up and saw the huge blue and gold orb belching black smoke, and thought it was a fire breathing dragon or evil demon! They attacked the monster armed with axes and pitchforks to defend their property and Mother France. The two men aboard were helpless as they hid behind a haystack while the angry mob approached.
Marquis d’Arlandes never flew again. History doesn’t record if he didn’t flybecause the flight scared him, or if it was the angry mob. Pilâtre de Rozier wasbitten by the bug as many of us are, and he continued to fly throughout Europe. But he realized there was a problem. He knew he had to figure out some way toappease the people wherever he landed. So he decided to carry a bottle ofchampagne. As the balloon came in low over the earth before landing, much like we came in low before our landing, he would hold up the champagne and shout something like “My name is Pilâtre – come share this Champagne with me”
Word soon spread that if you treat these men with respect, they’ll share their Champagne with you. This was quite a treat, since Champagne was something that was reserved for the Aristocracy. This still works today. We are often greeted with open arms, and very rarely run into any irate French farmers!
(at this time champagne is poured for all passengers, crew, and any landowners present)
Sometime after that first flight, a Priest took his first balloon flight. He was so taken by the beauty and splendor of his flight that he wrote a poem that has since been adopted by balloonists worldwide. It is called the Balloonist’s Blessing and goes like this:
(at this time the pilot raises his cup to offer the following toast)