Update Post: December 9, 2023 8:51 am
The French engineer and aeronaut Francois Laurent d’Arlandes (1742-1809). Photo: wikipedia.org
They left the forest of Boulogne. They rose above the ground to a height of almost 1 kilometer and flew more than 8 kilometers in 25 minutes. After landing on the Buttes aux Cailles hill, then on the outskirts of Paris, the brave men celebrated their good fortune.
Who are they, the world’s first aeronauts?
Pilatre de Rozier was 29 years old at the time. He studied mathematics, physics, chemistry and natural sciences, and taught chemistry. He became the founder of the Parisian scientific society “Athénée”: he organized conferences that enjoyed great popularity.
The Marquis of Arlandes was older: he was 41 years old and served in the royal guard.
Both were passionate admirers of the aeronautical experiments of the Montgolfier brothers. We participated in air lift training with tethered balloons. It was they who convinced King Louis XVI that the first human balloon flight should be carried out by representatives of the upper class.
Hotel Titona, where in the summer of 1783, to the delight of a large crowd of amateurs, experiments were carried out with the Montgolfier brothers’ aerostatic machine. Photo: wikipedia.org
For the first time, a hot air balloon, named after its creators as a hot air balloon, took to the skies in the same year 1783, only a little earlier, on June 5. It was made of canvas, covered in paper and filled with hot air. In previous experiments, wool, paper, wood and wet straw were burned in the combustion chamber under the shell. But it turned out that if the shell is filled with hot, humid air, instead of dry air, the lifting force of the balloon will be greater.
A protocol was drawn up on how the first “pioneering” flight was developed. It is recorded: the balloon remained in the air for 8 minutes and flew at an altitude of 520 meters for about 3 km.
First hot air balloon flights. Photo: wikipedia.org
And on September 19 of the same year, passengers appeared “on board” for the first time: during the balloon demonstration in Versailles, a ram, a duck and a rooster were placed on the gondola. There are memories that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette observed the flight. The animals survived the plane trip well. It is true that the rooster, they say, did suffer: a ram stepped on it…
The new balloon, which lifted two people into the air, was strikingly different from its predecessors: it had an oval shape, a volume of more than 2 thousand cubic meters and weighed half a ton. In addition, it was decorated with signs of the zodiac and flowers.
Model of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon in the Le Bourget aviation museum. Paris. Photo: Aviator12/CC BY-SA 3.0, commons.wikimedia.org
By the way, a completely logical question arises: why did the inventors themselves not risk taking off with their creation? This is where historians’ opinions differ. Some write that the inventors themselves had a terrible fear of heights. Others say that the Montgolfiers still planned to personally pilot the plane, but Louis XVI forbade them from personally participating in the flight.
The physicist Pilatre de Rozier successfully flew in a hot air balloon several times after his first flight. Inspired, he decided, together with his friend, the mechanic Pierre-Ange Romain, to cross the English Channel from France to England.
Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier, French aeronaut. Photo: wikipedia.org
However, alas: it all ended in tragedy. On June 15, 1785, they took to the skies in a hot air balloon made up of two cylinders: one filled with air and the other filled with hydrogen. 15 minutes after takeoff, the balloon caught fire and exploded. Everything happened at an altitude of approximately 450 meters…
Thus, the first balloonist Pilatre de Rozier, like his friend, became the first victim of an aviation accident in the world. His name has been inscribed in the history of world aviation for centuries. And in 1991, the International Astronomical Union named a crater on the near side of the Moon after the French physicist.
The life of the Marquis of Arlandes also took a dramatic turn. After the French Revolution, he was discharged from military service and spent the rest of his life in his family’s castle.