Flying machines were invented 120 years before the Wright brothers’ plane made its first flight. They were quieter, more beautiful to look at and not nearly so bad for the environment. But they were a bit harder to steer.
Up, Up and Away. Brothers Josef and Etienne Montgolfier came up with their invention after noticing that the hot air in an open fire made pieces of ash rise upwards. They didn’t want to take any chances though: instead of going themselves, their first balloon-flight passengers in 1782 were a sheep, a cockerel and a duck, who flew successfully for 33 m over ten minutes. (The duck would have done better than that on its own.)
The first balloon flight with human passengers was made by Pilatre de Rozier and Francois d’Arlandes in Paris in 1783. Since the first balloons had a tendency to catch fire, the original idea was for condemned criminals to make the first flight. But Rozier and d’Arlandes decided to be brave and they made the journey themselves, without anything catching fire. Sadly Rozier was killed two years later when he tried to cross the Channel in a balloon.
Balloons have come a long way since 1782: they’ve soared as high as 34,000 m (in 1961), and travelled more than 40,000 km on a non-stop journey lasting 20 days (in 1999). The Channel, the Atlantic and even the Pacific have all been crossed successfully by hot-air balloon.
Funky fuel: The fuel used for the Montgolfier brothers’ first flight consisted of old boots and bad meat. No wonder they didn’t fancy the trip themselves. Today’s hot-air balloons are fueled by propane, which isn’t quite so smelly.
MAKE YOUR OWN HOT-AIR BALLOON
You can make a simple indoor hot-air balloon. You need to be in a draughtless room with high ceilings.
It won’t be able to take any passengers, but as it’s not leaving the room that shouldn’t matter!
WHAT YOU NEED
a small plastic bag, paper clips, Sellotape, a hair dryer, a room with a high ceiling, an assistant
The best bags to make into hot-air balloons are thin ones (the thinner the better). Carrier bags from supermarkets are usually thin enough. If you think your bag is too big or you think the handles might get in the way, trim it down from the top.
Take the hair dryer and place it underneath the bag (you will need some help to hold the bag upside down). Before turning it on, make sure the bag isn’t touching the hair dryer at any point, as the heat may make the plastic bag melt to the hair dryer and it will be really hard to remove.
Now you’re ready to make your balloon fly. Turn the hair dryer on full and fill the bag with hot air. The person holding on to the bag should hold it lightly at the corners, and once the balloon is ready to fly it should gently float away from their fingers.
You may not get the perfect launch straight away, but, with a few adjustments to the amount of Sellotape or paper clips, you should be able to send your balloon high up into the room.
Take a look at your bag and check for holes. Cover the holes with Sellotape. But be warned: the more Sellotape you add to the bag, the heavier your balloon will be and it’ll take longer to float away.
Take several paper clips and slip them around the opening of your plastic bag. This will help stabilize it by countering the weight of the balloon as it fills with air. You may have to experiment with the number of clips you use: not enough and the balloon won’t rise steadily; too many and the balloon will be too heavy and won’t fly at all!