Le Flesselle, 19th January 1784

Le Flesselle, the biggest balloon.

On the 19th of January 1784, in Lyon, France, the largest Montgolfier balloon ever made was laid out for launching.  Called “Le Flesselle”, it was 120 feet high and had a capacity of 700,000 cubic feet, making it not only huge for its day but one of the largest hot air balloons ever flown, even to this day.

It was sponsored by the governor of Lyon, Jacques de Flesselles, seigneur de Champgueffier en Brie et de La Chapelle-Iger.

It would be piloted by two experienced balloonists — Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier.

Five noble and gentlemen were passengers, as reported in “Editions de LE NOIR”, including M. le Prince Charles De Ligne, M. le Comte de la porte d’Anglefort, M. le Comte de Laurencin, M. le Comte de Dampierre and M. Fontaine de Lyon.

The rather unfortunate winter weather and a badly repaired tear meant that after 13 minutes, at 3,000 feet, the envelope ripped and the balloon plummeted into a meadow near Lyon.

The rip took place at a spot where previous repairs had been made — apparently incorrectly.  Immediately, the balloon began leaking the hot air that was essential for flight.

For a moment the balloon hung in the sky and then seemingly it hesitated before it began to fall, slowly at first.  As the winter cold entered the envelope, it further hastened the cooling of the air. “Le Flesselle” was doomed.  Despite releasing ballast, the rate of descent only accelerated.  A crash was inevitable — Montgolfier, de Rozier and the passengers could do nothing but hang on.

Finally, the balloon struck the ground.  Somehow, the seven aboard survived the impact, though it was a jarring affair.

As for “Le Flesselle”, it was never flown again.  For the makers and for the public, the third and last flight of  “Le Flesselle” heralded the view that the maximum size of balloons may well have been reached.  In any case, the Montgolfiers never again attempted a balloon of that size.  “Le Flesselle” was unique — and remains a grand gesture in a time of greatest, when man first conquered flight. Somehow, none of them were injured.

All of the inhabitants of Lyon as well as 3,000 others had come to witness the feat.

Despite the tragedy, and death miraculously avoided, the event was celebrated — truly, France had gone “balloon mad!”

 How can anyone survive a 3,000 foot fall?

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