12 Surprising Hot Air Balloon Facts

Hot air balloons in the sky.

Don’t look down!

Ever wondered how hot air balloons function, who made the first hot air balloon, who the first passengers were on the first hot air balloon flight, how they exist and the general history of hot air balloons? As the oldest form of human flight, hot air balloons really do pose some interesting questions for kids and adults alike.

Whether you’ve seen them soaring through the sky or read about them in the history books, check out these 15 surprising and fun facts about hot air balloons to learn some seriously cool stuff!

Plus, if you're in the mood to soak up some more knowledge, take a read of our 73 cool facts and stats for kids - impress all your friends with everything from anatomy fun facts and funny stats about animals. Or, if your family are a bunch of Potterheads, you simply can't miss our Harry Potter movie facts! But before you do all that, keep reading to find out 15 surprising hot air balloon fun facts and get clued up on some serious hot air balloon history.

What Is A Hot Air Balloon?

1) Hot air rises - therefore hot air balloons fly. It really is as simple as that! A hot air balloon is a lighter-than-air travel balloon consisting of a bag, also labelled an ‘envelope’ (usually brightly coloured so onlookers can spot them in the air!), which is filled with hot air, and suspended beneath is typically a wicker basket which not only carries the passengers but also is where the source of heat comes from.

2) There are three kinds - the first kind of hot air balloon is the most common; labelled the Montgolfier, it uses fire to heat the air inside of the balloon which helps it to take off. The second kind is called a hybrid balloon, which works in a similar way to the Montgolfier but also contains a compartment of helium or hydrogen in the top. And the final kind of balloon is a pure gas balloon which doesn’t make use of hot air like the others and instead the altitude is controlled by venting the gas or dropping ballast.

Hot air balloon being set up to lift into the air.

How And When Was The Hot Air Balloon Created?

3) The first hot air balloon was created in 1972 by the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne. Whilst it was created in 1972, the first hot air balloon flight wasn’t until a year later in 1973 - continue reading below to find out who the first, unassuming passengers were on this flight.

4) Every man had dreamt of flying through the air but it wasn’t until the two brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne, experimented with the concept of lighter-than-air flight that anything came into fruition. They took a piece of fabric and filled it with air by using a fire of wool and damp straw - who would’ve thought?

5) This new invention caught the eye of the Académie Royale des Sciences (an institution established in Paris in 1666 which focused on scientific research). They asked the brothers if they could repeat their (what seemed little) experiment in Paris and it was a complete success. The brothers were then asked to do it for a second time a week before their planned demonstration in front of the King at Versailles.

6) Unfortunately, this was a disaster, in this demonstration the hot air balloon tore and had to be stitched back together immediately. The balloon was made out of cotton canvas (similar to the type of material you would find on a tote bag or even Converse!) and measured up at 18.47m tall by 13.28m wide - plus, it weighed 400kg!

7) The first hot air balloon looked incredible. Despite its failure, the first hot air balloon (named Le Réveillon after Étienne's friend Jean-Baptiste Réveillon) looked magnificent. The Director of the Royal Manufacture of printed paper, decorated the balloon with a hand-crafted motif on a blue background embellished with the king’s cypher (two interweaving L’s), finished with little touches of gold everywhere.

Drawing of a hot air balloon flying off in the past.

Who Were The First Passengers?

8) The first passengers of a hot air balloon were in fact animals (kinda makes sense when you think about it). In 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster boarded the prototype balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers. The reasons for using animals are as follows (according to the brothers). At the time the psychology of sheep was believed to be similar to humans, the duck wouldn’t have any problems because it was used to flying at such high altitudes and the rooster, which was unable to fly would be a good measure for the limits of altitude!

9) Next up, were humans! In October of 1783, the Montgolfier brothers decided that it was time for a human to head into the hot air balloon and attempt flight. Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was the brave one - hopping into the hot air balloon which was connected to the ground by a guideline and keeping it aloft for around four minutes - impressive right!

Old image of a hot air balloon gone wrong, burning above the crowd.

What Is Unique About A Hot Air Balloon?

10) Hot air balloons can reach heights of up to 21,000 meters - well, that was just on the one occasion where the World Record for highest hot air balloon flight was smashed! Typically hot air balloons fly between around 500 and 2,500 feet up to speeds of approximately 10 miles an hour.

11) Forget a hot air balloon festival, in 1808 a hot air balloon duel occurred as a result of a love triangle! Two Frenchmen took to the skies of Paris to battle it out over Mademoiselle Tirevit, a celebrated opera dancer.

12) Imagine this - you, the ground and a glass-bottomed basket hot air balloon. Well, that’s exactly what happened in 2010 at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta when Christian Brown presented his glass-bottomed hot air balloon. Passengers were left terrified and we don’t blame them!

View looking down through a glass-bottomed hot air balloon.


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