Flight has always intrigued humans. Ever since the advent of mankind there have been numerous attempts by human beings to soar through air, rejoicing with birds in their freedom of flight.
Greek mythology tells the story of Dedalus inventing a flying machine to escape king Minos with his son Icarus, who ignoring his father’s instructions was swallowed by the deep blue sea. In real life when attempts to fly by imitating birds failed to materialise, inventors eventually found alternate ways to design flying machines which included hot air balloons.
It was the Chinese who first invented unmanned hot air balloons, with Chinese military leader Zhuge Liang using these Kongming lanterns to strategically illuminate the battlefield for his army. Following pursuit 200 decades back a French scientist Pilatre De Rozier in Annonay, France launched the first hot air balloon in September 1783 with passengers including a sheep, duck and a rooster. Staying airborne for approximately three minutes they came down without any mishap. The Montgolfier brothers encouraged by this experiment were keen to try out human flight on hot air balloons for which Pilatre De Rozier volunteered as a passenger along with Jean Francois and Marquis D’Artandes. After two months of his experiment with farm animals he flew the hot air balloon crafted by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier using his skills of manipulating temperature to maneuver the balloon successfully. He flew over Paris for almost 28 minutes at an altitude of 3,000 feet, landing without any accident.
Once this discovery was made public hot air balloons evolved rapidly. With more balloon flights launched in 1783 and the years to come, these hot air balloons were also used in the battle of Fleurus by the French in 1794.
How Does a Hot Air Balloon Work?
Hot air balloons work on a very simple principle i.e. warm air rises, whereas cold air is heavy and brings the balloon down. The air inside the balloon has lower density than the cold air outside which helps propel the balloon upward.
The top of the balloon consists of an envelope with a burner positioned under its open end. To keep the balloon raising the air is reheated by turning on the burner as and when required. These days propane gas is used in burners to heat up the air which has a more powerful flame and a lower amount of fuel consumption. In touring balloons propane tanks are kept in the gondola which is used for carrying passengers around along with a compass, fuel gauge and a number of other instruments required to navigate the balloon.
Sizes and Shapes
Hot air balloons come in a variety of sizes. There are balloons with the capacity of carrying one passenger without a basket and are known as ‘Cloudhoppers’, on the other hand large hot air balloons can carry up to twenty four people at a time. Besides coming in different sizes these balloons also have interesting shapes depending on the users’ personal preferences.
Though travelling through hot air balloons is not a preferred form of navigation, this flight has become popular due to its calm take off and exciting experience. Passengers who have been on a hot air balloon ride recall it as an enthralling experience which takes your breath away.