1709 – First demonstration of a model hot air balloon

Just after breakfast on August 8th, 1709, a 24 year old Priest, Bartolomeu de Gusmão from Brazil, demonstrated the first model balloon to King John V of Portugal.

It was Gusmao’s third attempt, as he had nearly set the palace alight 4 days before. He wore his best black cassock, as he had burned his two others experimenting.

On the patio of the House of India in Lisbon, before the King, loads of royalty, nobles and ladies of the Court and a few others, he set fire to the fuel within an earthenware container slung below the balloon.

It worked perfectly, it went up in the air, the flame went out, so it came down. The King was madly impressed, made him a Canon and granting the right of any and all flying ships to Gusmão from then on… and, for all those who dared to intervene or to copy his ideas, the penalty would be ‘death’.

Gusmao wanted to build a machine to fly people. His design was a balloon in the form of a bird with a tail and wings and a boat underneath. The invention was called ‘Passarola’, because of its resemblance to a bird. It was filled with numerous tubes, through which the wind would flow and fill out the bulges to give it shape. A model of his design is in the Museo Nacional Aeronáutico y del Espacio de Chile.

Sadly, after King John V died, the commoners didn’t trust all this hocus pocus and reported Gusmao to the Portuguese Inquisition as a wizard.

The Inquisition was a powerful office set up within the Catholic Church to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and the Americas. Beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, the Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures and its persecution of Jews and Muslims and anything such as heresy, wizardry or magic.

Gusmao, who was terrified of the Inquisition, took the advice of his friends, burned his manuscripts, disguised himself, and fled to Spain, where he died in a hospital.

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