The earliest type of air-borne craft based on the principles of a hot air ballooning, dates back to 220 to 280 AD in China. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han Kingdom used these sky lanterns (or Kongming Lanterns) for military signaling. The lanterns consisted of oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, with a small candle or waxy flammable material. When lit, the flame heated the air inside the lantern, causing it to rise. Similar lanterns were also used in World War II.
Hot Air Balloon Pioneers
Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier pioneered hot air ballooning in France after discovering that heated air in a lightweight bag would cause it to rise. They demonstrated their discovery publicly in 1783 in Annonay, France. They repeated the experiment a few months later, with a sheep, a duck and a rooster as passengers. Later that same year the first manned hot air balloon flight took place in Paris, coördinated by the Mongolfier brothers, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis Francois Laurent d’Arlandes. These men were aboard the paper and linen balloon, with smoke and heated air as the lifting gas.
Other Early Hot Air Balloon Exploration
Early hot air balloon explorers needed to consider balloon materials, the design, the correct lifting gas, the length of travel, and the ability to breathe at the designated altitude. In 1785 Jean Pierre Blanchard and his copilot flew across the English Channel. Pilatre de Rozier, hailed by some as the first balloonist, unfortunately died trying to cross the channel, when his half helium, half hot air balloon design exploded half an hour into flight. Blanchard later flew in North America. In 1978 Ben Abruzzi, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman were the first explorers to cross the Atlantic in a helium balloon, the Double Eagle II, flying for 137 hours. In 1981 the four pilots of the Double Edge V were the first to cross the pacific. The first trans-Atlantic hot air (as opposed to helium/gas-filled) balloon ride took place in 1987. Pilots Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand flew 2,900 miles in a record-breaking time of 33 hours. The envelope used was the largest ever flown, at 2.3 million cubic feet of capacity. A year later, Per Lindstand set yet another record, for the highest solo flight ever recorded in a hot air balloon, when he reached 65,000 feet. Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand paired up again in 1991 and became the first to cross the Pacific in a hot air balloon, traveling 6,700 miles in 47 hours. In 1999 Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones completed the first round the world flight in a hot air balloon. They left from Switzerland and landed in Africa, smashing all previous distance records, flying for almost 20 days.
Beginning with the 18th century, balloonist continually tried to fly their balloons at increasingly higher altitudes. In 1931 the Swiss explorer Auguste Piccard invented the stratospheric balloon,, which opened up new avenues in exploration. The stratospheric balloon was an inverted version of a 1905 invention that Auguste Piccard had carried out with his twin brother, Jean Piccard, for a bathyscaphe diving ship. The balloon consisted of a spherical aluminum pressure cabin and a 14,000-cubic-metre (500,000-cubic-foot) lightweight rubberized-cotton hydrogen balloon. This balloon made the first successful stratospheric flight, which went to 51,775 feet. In 1934 Jean Piccard and wife Jeanette flew a larger version with a magnesium alloy cabin to 57,579 feet. Shortly after Picard’s invention people used plastic high altitude balloons for cosmic ray research, photographic flights over foreign terrain, air sampling for detecting atomic explosions, observations of disturbances above the troposphere, and aerodynamic testing of free-falling payloads. Captain Joe Kitchner achieved the highest altitude, when he parachuted from his balloon at a height of 102,000 feet, breaking the sound barrier with his body. A balloon is the only stable craft that can fly above the height of an airplane and below the height of space craft. Today some high altitude balloons consist of nylon laminated with a polyester film, but most research balloons have polyethylene materials. Balloonists maintain internal pressure with liquid oxygen and carbon dioxide scrubbers.