Prepare supplies of taffeta and rope and you will see one of the most amazing things in the world!

JOSEPH MONTGOLFIER (1740-1810)

Hot Air Balloons

Mr Biggin and Mrs Sage


The first man to carry out a hot air balloon flight in England was an Italian named Vincent Lunardi; 150,000 watched the first ever balloon launch, in September 1784. The balloon was fitted with oars so that Lunardi could row through the air – he believed that he could control his altitude by rowing downwards. Despite his hard work, the balloon eventually descended anyway because it was losing gas.
 
At a subsequent event, Lunardi planned to ascend from Vauxhall Gardens with a 'dashing Old Etonian' called George Biggin (a man who, among other things, invented the coffee percolator) and the 'Junoesque' actress Mrs Sage.
 
When the time came for lift-off, Lunardi realised the balloon would not lift them all and leapt from the basket, leaving the two novice fliers to fend for themselves. The balloon took off and apparently Mrs. Sage was observed from Piccadilly at the entrance to the basket 'on all fours'. She claimed that she was merely securing the basket's opening. When she got back on her feet she trod on the barometer - used as an altimeter - so they had no way to tell their altitude. They lunched on sparkling wine and cold chicken, occasionally shouting at people below through a speaking trumpet as they drifted to Harrow. When they arrived, a schoolboy carried Mrs Sage (who had hurt her foot) to a local inn where they got drunk.
 
The unchaperoned flight prompted a flurry of speculation as to what Mr Biggin and Mrs Sage might have got up to on the way to Harrow. Biggin added fuel to the fire by refusing to comment, leading to a rash of bets which can still be seen in the wagers books at Brook’s and White’s Clubs (e.g. 'Lord Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Lord Derby, to receive 500 guineas whenever his lordship f**** a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the earth.') Mrs Sage’s comment on the affair was the cheerful confession that 'she felt largely responsible for the launching difficulties, as she had omitted to inform Lunardi that she made up to 200 pounds of human weight [more than 14 stone] and he had been too gallant to enquire.' 

LORIN MAAZEL

So many things can hinder one. Think you are up in a hot air balloon with sandbags. As you get older, keep throwing those sandbags overboard.

The Italian for a hot air balloon is una mongolfiera.

Ballooning Across the Channel


After Lunardi introduced ballooning to Britain, the race was on to be the first to fly a balloon across the Channel. It was won by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and his American financier Dr John Jeffries. In January 1785 they set up base camp at Dover Castle but quarrelled violently when Blanchard tried to ensure that he would make a solo flight by concealing a belt of lead weights under his shirt and claiming that the balloon would not lift both of them. Jeffries spotted the trick and made Blanchard divest himself of his ‘personal ballast’. Blanchard riposted by refusing to take any of Jeffries’ instruments, so they travelled light with only a barometer and a compass.

They lifted off on 7th January for a two-hour flight, and the rivalry persisted as each managed to ‘accidentally’ drop the other’s national flag over the side. Even so, they started to lose height alarmingly and so had to jettison as much as they could – all sand ballast, books and food – leaving only the barometer and a bottle of brandy. They were debating a plan to discard the basket and just dangle from the ropes when the balloon began to lift, but as they approached the cliffs at Calais they were still too low and were forced to ditch their clothing. Jeffries noted: '… we cast away first one anchor, then the other, after which my little hero [Blanchard] stripped and threw away his coat .... On this I was compelled to follow his example. He next cast away his trowsers….' They were down to their underclothes by the time the balloon cleared the cliff.
 
Now the danger was trees, and they had only one remaining way to lose weight; they urinated (and possibly defecated) out of the balloon. In his Narrative Jeffries apologises for introducing this 'trivial and ludicrous' detail but said that it was precisely the sort of information that a scientific writer should record. Jeffries then halted the balloon’s progress by grabbing treetops while Blanchard released hydrogen and they dropped into the trees.

A helium balloon will explode at the height at about 28,000 - 30,000ft.

W. B. YEATS (1865-1939)

Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

French villagers tried to attack the first manned hot air balloon, believing it to be a fire-breathing monster.

In 1808, a gentlemen’s duel took place at 2,000 ft. in a pair of hot air balloons. Each man used a blunderbuss to attempt to destroy the other's balloon.