There have been many great developments in the history of hot air ballooning to get the technology to where it is today. Here, we’ve listed an extensive timeline to provide every major milestone that has happened in the development of these incredible aircraft.
A hydrogen balloon piloted by Vincent Lunardi took off from London watched by a crowd of 100,000. It flew for an incredible one hour and 40 minutes and travelled 13 miles. Joseph Montgolfier made a flight in Le Fleusseiles, the largest man-carrying hot air balloon ever built, with room for 30 passengers.
Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jefferies crossed the English Channel by gas balloon, carrying a letter – the world’s first airmail.
The first parachute jump was made by A J Garnerin, a French balloonist and adventurer who dropped 3,000 feet from a gas balloon.
The British Balloon Corps was founded. It developed the use of steel storage cylinders for hydrogen. Balloons were now widely used for military purposes – at the siege of Paris, they carried passengers, pigeons and mail.
Swedish aeronaut Salomon Andrea tried to reach the North Pole by balloon. He didn’t make it.
US newspaperman Gordon Bennett sponsored the first balloon race. Sixteen gas balloons took off from Paris. The event is still held annually.
The First Manned Balloon Flight to the Stratosphere and First use of a Pressurized Capsule for a Balloon Flight: On August 18, Auguste Piccard, a Swiss Scientist, soars into the stratosphere in his balloon, ‘FNRS,’ and sets a new altitude record of 52,498 feet. Over the next few years, altitude records continue to be set, almost monthly, in the push to reach ever higher into the stratosphere.
New Altitude Record is Set and Remains for 20 Years: Explorer II, a helium gas balloon, sets the altitude record at 72,395 feet, or 13.7 miles, with two crew members on board. For the first time in history, it is proven that humans can travel and survive in a pressurized chamber at extremely high altitudes. This flight sets a milestone for aviation and paves the way for future space travel and the concept of manned flight in space. The highly publicized flight is also able to carry live radio broadcasts from the balloon.
Altitude Record and Highest Parachute Jump: Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger jumps from a balloon at 102,800 feet on August 16th and sets a world high altitude parachute jump (where he breaks the sound barrier with his body) and freefall record that was only recently broken in 2012.
The era of modern hot air ballooning began as one lifted off from Nebraska with a propane-powered burner.
Current Official Altitude Record Set: Commander Malcolm Ross and Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather of the U.S. Navy ascend to 113,739.9 feet in ‘Lee Lewis Memorial,’ a polyethylene balloon. They land in the Gulf of Mexico where, with his pressure suit filling with water, and unable to stay afloat, Prather drowns.
Hot air ballooning really took off as a modern sport, with new synthetic materials and smaller, lighter burners, mostly made in the UK. 1978 First Balloon to Cross the Atlantic: Double Eagle II, a helium balloon carrying Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, becomes the first balloon to cross the Atlantic. A new duration record is set with a flight time of 137 hours.
The first Bristol Balloon Fiesta took place, now Europe’s largest annual balloon fiesta with more than 130 balloons taking part. Clive Bailey is Flight Director.
First Balloon to Cross the Pacific: Thirteen-story high Double Eagle V, piloted by Ben Abruzzo, Larry Newman, Ron Clark and Rocky Aoki of Japan, launches from Nagashimi, Japan on November 10 and lands 84 hours, 31 minutes later in Mendocino National Forest in California. A new distance record is set at 5,768 miles.
First Solo Transatlantic Balloon Flight: Joe Kittinger flies 3,535 miles from Caribou, Maine to Savona, Italy in his helium-filled balloon ‘Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace
First Hot Air Balloon to Cross the Atlantic: Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson fly a distance of 2,900 miles in 33 hours and set a new record for hot air ballooning. The balloon, at the time, is the largest ever flown at 2.3 million cubic feet of capacity. 1988 Hot Air High Altitude Record: Per Lindstrand sets a solo world record of 65,000 feet for the greatest height ever reached by a hot air balloon.
First Hot Air Balloon to Cross the Pacific: Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson become the first to traverse the Pacific by hot air balloon, reaching speeds in the jet stream of up to 245 mph, in their ‘Otsuka Flyer,’ which travels 6,700 miles in 46 hours. They fly from Japan to Arctic Canada and break the world distance record.
Somerset’s Andy Elson piloted the first balloon to fly over Mount Everest, setting some seven ballooning world records along the way including first balloon flight over Everest, first Nepal to Tibet balloon flight, highest take off by a balloon at 15,000ft and highest landing by a balloon at 16,000ft.
Clive and Jo Bailey achieve the altitude record from the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta reaching 22,500 feet
The first round-the-world trip in a hot air balloon was planned by Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson. It failed.
Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard made the first successful circumnavigation of the world in a balloon, Breitling Orbitor 3 on 1st March 1999 and landed 20 days later in the Egyptian Desert.
David Hempleman Adams replicated the flight attempted by Soloman Adree in 1897 to reach the North Pole in a balloon, on June 1st 2000 he made it after flying for 6 days, taking of from Longyearbyen, Svalbard with Clive Bailey as his logistics and flight director.
Steve Fossett became the first man to travel alone around the world – in a Bristol-built balloon. It was his sixth attempt.
Somerset’s Andy Elson attempted to fly a Bristol-made balloon to the edge of space and break the world hot air altitude record. It failed after a tear in the balloon let the inflating helium escape.
The world attitude record was broken in India by Dr Vijapat Singhania, he flew his 1.6 million cubic foot balloon to over 70,000 feet.