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When was the first hot air balloon flight?

Did you know two men circumnavigated the globe in a balloon in 1999? The historic achievement for science, technology and mankind was completed by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones who successfully landed in the Egyptian desert, after traveling 45’755km in 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes, thus achieving the longest flight in the history of aviation for both distance and duration. The balloonists took off from Chateau-d’Oex, Switzerland, on March 1st, 1999.

Some key facts about the round-the-world flight:

Duration of the flight: 19 days 21 hours 55 minutes

Maximum altitude reached: 38,566 feet (11,755 meters)

Maximum speed attained: 149 mph (240 Km/h)

Distance covered: 28,430 miles (45,755 kilometers)

Number of countries crossed: 26 countries

This happened a measly 216 years after the invention of the first hot air balloon was demonstrated in front of a group of people in France. June 4, 1783 brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, paper manufacturers (a high-tech industry at the time), publicly demonstrated their invention of a lighter-than-air device. The Montgolfiers discovered the idea when they noticed paper bags would float with hot air. They built a balloon made of silk and lined with paper that was 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter and launched it — with nobody aboard — from the marketplace in Annonay, France. The balloon rose to between 5,200 and 6,600 feet (1,600 to 2,000 m) and stayed aloft for 10 minutes, traveling more than a mile (about 2 kilometers).

Word of the brothers' success quickly spread, and a demonstration for the king of France was planned and the brothers enlisted the help of Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, a successful wallpaper manufacturer who decorated the balloon with golden flourishes, zodiac signs and suns, together symbolizing the French monarch of the time, King Louis XVI.

Because the effects of high altitudes on humans was unknown at the time, the Montgolfiers suspended a basket below the balloon containing a sheep, a duck and a rooster (though the king suggested using prisoners). At the time, the sheep's physiology was thought to be similar to a human's; the high-flying duck was unlikely to be harmed, so it was used as a control. And the rooster was included as a further control because it did not fly at high altitudes. The balloon and its animal passengers lifted off on Sept. 19, 1783. The flight lasted 8 minutes and was witnessed by the French king, Marie Antoinette and a crowd of 130,000. The balloon flew about 2 miles (3.2 km) before landing safely.

The next step was to test a balloon with a person as the passenger. On Oct. 15, 1783, the brothers launched a balloon on a tether with Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a chemistry and physics teacher, aboard. He stayed aloft for almost 4 minutes.

On November 21, 1783 Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes (a French military officer), made the first free ascent in a hot air balloon. The pair flew from the center of Paris to the suburbs, about 5.5 miles (9 km), in 25 minutes. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his journal about witnessing the balloon take off, "We observed it lift off in the most majestic manner. When it reached around 250 feet [76 m] in altitude, the intrepid voyagers lowered their hats to salute the spectators. We could not help feeling a certain mixture of awe and admiration."

We've come quite a ways since then, that's for sure. Hot air balloons can be seen flying around the country side on spring and summer days with passengers, ranging from novice to expert. Some people even sky dive from the things! What about you? Have you gone a hot air balloon ride? Would you want to go on one?

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