In 1967 The 5th Dimension [remember them?] invited listeners to join them in “my beautiful balloon.” At the time, it seemed an unrealistic invitation. Did they mean the balloons we used for decorations? Obviously not. However, there was a new mode of transportation in the air, one that Ed Yost made possible in 1960. That year, Yost fastened two propane tanks to what resembled a lawn chair attached to a white nylon balloon and flew for 25 minutes. Yost had invented the first modern hot air balloon.
Historically, the Montgolfier brothers developed the first hot air balloons 1783. Joseph came up with the concept that hot air is lighter than cold air by inflating his shirt over a fire. With his brother Etienne, Joseph set to work in the back garden, to make a fabric globe, heat it above a fire, and watch it reach a height of 98 feet. The brothers realized they were on to something, and built a 900 cubic meter balloon out of cotton sewed on paper with an attached a basket of wool and straw. When the balloon had enough hot air to take off, Etienne and Joseph cut the ropes. The balloon floated gracefully into the sky until the air became colder, and the balloon dropped into a field and ignited a fire. The farmers were so astonished, they allowed the balloon to burn. Despite losing their prototype, the brothers reported their experiments to the French Academy, which invited them to Paris to make a public demonstration.
In Paris, many people, including King Louis XVI, were excited about the new invention, but also understandably nervous about whether or not it was safe for humans to fly. When the new balloon was ready to launch, it carried a duck, a cockerel , and a sheep. The flight lasted three minutes, and the animals returned without harm, proving that if animals could survive flight, so could people.
The Montgolfier brothers promised their father they would stay on the ground, so they recruited Francois Pilatre de Rosier and Francois Laurent to take their places on the first balloon launch with human passengers . On Nov. 21, 1783, the men stood on a platform attached to the bottom of the balloon, and hand-fed the fire with straw. The balloon rose to about 500 feet and traveled over 5 miles before making a safe landing in a farming area. According to legend, the pilots gave the farmers champagne to calm their fears, which is one of the reasons hot-air balloon companies often serve the bubbly wine at the end of a flight.Today the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale recognizes hot air ballooning as the safest air sport in aviation, though accidents do occur and can be fatal.
Getting Ready for Take-Off
Hot air balloon rides usually begin at dawn or 2-3 hours before sunset when winds are light. I’ve taken two hot air balloon rides, one in Cappadocia, Turkey, and the other at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Both required rising before the crack of dawn, and both were well-worth the effort.
Before flight, the balloon is unpacked and laid flat on the ground where the ground crew connects it to a basket and a burner. A fan blows cold outside air into the balloon to inflate it, before the burner flame is directed into the mouth of the balloon. Once the balloon is upright, the pilot and passengers climb aboard. The pilot directs more heat into the balloon; the crew releases the tether ropes, and the adventure begins.
Hot air ballooning is both a sport and an opporutnity to see the view. Conde Nast Traveler named nine top locations for hot air ballooning. Besides Cappadocia and Maasai Mara, the list included Alburquerque, New Mexico which also hosts an International Balloon Fiesta; Serengeti National Park, Tanzania; Napa Valley, California; Sossusvlei, Namibia; Queenstown, New Zealand; Chateau-d’Oex, Switzerland, and Atacama Desert, Chile.
If you have the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride, consider saying yes. It’s an incredible ride.
🥂 🥂 🥂
Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey. By Author.
Hot Air Balloon, 1783.
Montgolfier Brothers Flight, Paris.
View of Paris by Matthaus Merian, 1648
Champaigne & Glass by Nigel Wade.
Preparing & Flying Hot Air Balloon, Maasai Mara, Kenya. By Author.
Paul Rubio. “9 Best Places to Go Hot Air Ballooning in the World.” Conde-Nast Traveler Aug 24 2016
Dennis Hevesi. “Ed Yost, 87, Father of Modern Hot-Air Ballooning, Dies.” New York Times. June 4, 2007.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.