This was the First Flying Machine!
Posted on: December 22, 2018.

The “Hot-Air Balloon” was the first ever means of transportation that could levitate, float, and manoeuvre through the air, introduced in 1783 AD, in France. However, the earliest known balloons (unmanned) had existed in China, in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD).

A hot-air balloon is principally made up of two things: a heat source and an envelope (the “balloon”). Heated gas from the fuel source—mostly helium-filled cylindrical burners—is funnelled into the envelope. While hot-air renders the envelope buoyant, helium gas, which has a potentially lower density than the air surrounding the balloon, further enables the balloon to rise and float through air. The highest altitude ever reached in a hot-air balloon is 68,900 feet—a world record!

Nylon—which melts at roughly 230°C—is the most common material used to make the envelope. Consequently, the temperature inside the balloon is usually maintained below 120°C. Furthermore, rain damages hot-air balloons as the raindrops that come into contact with the heated envelope would boil and destroy the fabric.

The top of the balloon has a vent designed to enable the pilot navigating the balloon to raise and lower it. Attached to the envelope is a passenger cabin, “the basket”, where people stand during flights. However, humans weren’t the first species to ride in a hot-air balloon in 1783—prior to this, an eight-minute flight took place, with animal passengers—a sheep, duck, and a rooster!

Once, a hot-air balloon “accidentally” landed on a field, destroying the farmers’ crops. Subsequently, the French aristocracy offered champagne to the peasants, to make them happy. Ever since, handing champagne around after a hot-air balloon flight, became a tradition.

Famous billionaire Richard Branson, of Virgin Atlantic Airways, set two world records with a single flight on his hot-air balloon the “Virgin Atlantic Flyer”: for “longest hot-air balloon flight” (by distance) that departed from Japan and landed in Northern Canada, and for “fastest hot-air balloon flight” (394 kilometres per hour)!

Today, hot-air balloons—designed to look like animals, various objects, and even cartoon characters!—are primarily used for recreation, but during the French Revolution, and the American Civil War, enemies were spied on using hot-air balloons. Turkey, New Mexico, Egypt, and Tanzania, and amongst many countries around the world that host hot-air balloon festivals… and this time its India!

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