This Day in Tech History

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First Men Untethered

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November 21, 1783: Men Fly Over Paris

French physician Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent, the marquis d’ Arlandes, make the first untethered hot-air balloon flight, flying 5.5 miles over Paris in about 25 minutes. Their cloth balloon was crafted by French papermaking brothers Jacques-Étienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, inventors of the world’s first successful hot-air balloons.

Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier

Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier

François Laurent le Vieux d'Arlandes

François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humanity has dreamed of flight for time immemorial. Da Vinci drew designs of flying machines in the 15th century but it was the Montgolfier brothers who first took men into the sky.

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier ran a prosperous paper business in the town of Vidalon in southern France. Their success allowed them to finance their interest in scientific experimentation. In 1782, they discovered that when combustible materials are burned under a lightweight paper or fabric bag, it would cause the bag to rise into the air. From this phenomenon, they deduced that smoke causes balloons to rise. Of course we know that it is hot air that causes balloons to rise, but their error did not interfere with their subsequent achievements.

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier

After several tethered tests to gain some experience of controlling the balloon, de Rozier and d’Arlandes made their first untethered flight in a Montgolfier hot air balloon.

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Before a large expectant crowd in Paris on November 21 they lifted off at around 2 p.m. from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne, in the presence of the King. Also watching was U.S. envoy, Benjamin Franklin. Their 25-minute flight travelled slowly about 5½ miles (some 9 km) to the southeast, attaining an altitude of 3,000 feet, before returning to the ground at the Butte-aux-Cailles, then on the outskirts of Paris.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was a French chemistry and physics teacher besides being one of the first pioneers of aviation. He later died when his balloon crashed near Wimereux in the Pas-de-Calais during an attempt to fly across the English Channel. He and his companion, Pierre Romain, became the first known fatalities in an air crash.

François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes was a French marquis, soldier and a pioneer of hot air ballooning.

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Thus, the first untethered hot-air balloon flight occurred as Pilátre and d’Arlandes rose up from the grounds of royal Cháteau La Muette in the Bois de Boulogne and flew approximately five miles. Humanity had at last conquered the sky.

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