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4 fun facts about hot air balloons


Up, up and away! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fly in a hot air balloon, soaring among the clouds? Hot air balloons have been around since 1783, making them the oldest form of human flight — and probably one of the most beautiful to watch, too. Mr. Orlando’s got some soaring facts about these amazing vehicles.

FACT: The first hot air balloon was invented by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783.

The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne, came from a family of paper manufactures in France. Joseph, who liked to invent things, was watching a fire one evening and noticed the embers rising up into the air. He thought that there must be a special gas within the smoke of the fire that was doing this lifting (he called it Montgolfier Gas after himself) and started to experiment with how to reproduce it. After many attempts, the brothers landed upon a globe-shaped balloon of sackcloth with thin layers of paper inside, held together by buttons and cord and powered by heat. The first hot air balloon was born.

FACT:  The first hot air balloon passengers were not people, but animals

After several modifications to their initial hot air balloon design, the Montgolfier brothers decided to test out a new adaptation using passengers. The first passengers to take a ride in a hot air balloon were a sheep named Montauciel (“climb to the sky”), a duck and a rooster. The flight lasted about eight minutes and the balloon rose about 460 metres. All the animals came back safely, with some excellent stories to tell about their trip. Baa! Quack! Cock-a-doodle-doo!

FACT: Unlike other modes of transport, you can’t steer a hot air balloon.

Wikimedia/Böhringer Friedrich/CC BY-SA 3.0 

There are 3 main parts to a hot air balloon: the ‘burner’ creates heat that rises; the hot air fills the ‘envelope’ (that’s the balloon part); when it’s full, it lifts the ‘basket,’ which rises off the ground. But there’s no steering wheel! The pilots are at the mercy of the wind direction. Because wind speed is different depending on how high up in the air you are, the pilots listen carefully to the weather report, and turn the burner on and off to keep the balloons hovering at the right speed.

FACT: 700 balloons take flight at the largest annual hot air balloon festival in the world.

Photo by Joe D. licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 

The largest hot air balloon festival takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, each year. During the Balloon Fiesta, you can see 700 balloons in the air over nine days, in all shapes and sizes. And there are no viewing stands — you can actually walk around an area the size of 54 football fields and watch the balloons take flight right in front of you. What a sight!