There’s a lot of history behind hot air ballooning. Keep reading for 5 soaring facts about the oldest form of flight known to man. And while you’re here, see how you can WIN a unique hot air ballooning experience for yourself.
1. The first passengers
In 1783, more than a century before the Wright brother’s flight in North Carolina, brothers Joseph-Michel and Jean-Etienne Montgolfier launched the first hot air balloon over the heads of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court in Versailles. An odd assortment of animals was chosen to test the effects of flight. A sheep (thought to be similar to people) to show the effects of altitude on a land dweller, while a duck and a rooster, which could already fly (albeit at different heights), acted as controls in the experiment. The balloon flew on a tether for 8 minutes, rising 1500 feet into the air and travelling 2 miles before being brought safely to the ground.
Illustration by Claude-Louis Desrais
2. The highest flight
The highest anyone has ever flown in a hot air balloon is 68,986 feet, nearly twice the cruising altitude of commercial airliners. At that height, the people on the basket had to wear oxygen masks.
Photo credit: Dom Gould
3. The real reason for the champagne toast celebration
You might think it is to celebrate your safe flight and amazing experience but there is more to this tradition. In France, the farmers were not too happy with hot air balloons landing on their farms, therefore, pilots started to take champagne with them on the flight to give to the farmers whose farms they landed on as a peace offering.
Photo credit: Brett Sayles
4. The war renaissance
In 1794, during the Battle of Fleurus in the French Revolution, a balloon called Entreprenant was flown for aerial observation to suss out enemy positions during combat. The balloon, which was tethered, flew for 9 hours. During this time, the aeronaut wrote down the movement of Austrian troops and dropped the dispatches to the ground. It’s unclear whether the dispatches helped all that much—the generals were tactfully quiet on the matter—but the French did win the battle.
Illustration from Harper's Weekly of Professor Lowe in his balloon
5. The mystery
Some believe the Nazca Lines were made with hot air balloons. It is believed that ancient Peruvians drew the giant figures in the Nazca desert with the help of hot air balloons. Jim Woodman who put forth this theory in 1970, referenced ancient pottery that he thought depicted ballooning, as well as fabric fragments that could have been used as a balloon’s envelope. He even went so far as to make his own balloon using only the resources that would have been available to ancient Peruvians. The theory has been largely discredited, but some still believe balloons had something to do with the Nazca lines. What do you think?
Photo credit: Diego Delso
Don’t forget to enter our Bucketlist Adventure competition in collaboration with Hot Air Ballooning SA for a chance to experience this elegant, enchanting and mysterious activity. The prize includes Capestorm gear worth R1000 plus 2X hot air ballooning experiences in KZN with champagne and breakfast upon landing. Competition closes tonight at midnight.