21st November is Montgolfier Day

All over the world, 21st November is the day balloonists celebrate the anniversary of the first free flight with human beings.

In 1783 in Paris, France, the famous Montgolfier balloon took off from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne in the presence of the King. The balloon was designed and built by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that two condemned criminals would be the first passengers, and if they survived they would be pardoned. But Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, (a chemistry and physics teacher) along with the Marquis François Laurent d’Arlandes (a French military officer), successfully persuaded the King to let them go up instead.

The fifty feet high, highly decorated envelope had a smoky fire slung under the neck of the balloon suspended in an iron basket. It was controllable and supposed to be constantly replenished by the balloonists who were in the balcony around the neck of the balloon. But Marquis François Laurent d’Arlandes was absolutely terrified for the whole flight, and often did not hear Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier yelling at him from the other side of the balloon to put more straw on the fire.

In 25 minutes the two men travelled just over five miles. Enough fuel (hay or straw) remained on board at the end of the flight to have allowed the balloon to fly four to five times as far, but burning embers from the fire threatened to engulf the balloon and the men decided to land as soon as they were over open countryside. The pioneering work of the Montgolfier brothers in developing the hot air balloon was recognised by this type of balloon being named Montgolfière after them.

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