A hot-air balloon is a lighter-than-air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket (in some long-distance or high-altitude balloons, a capsule), which carries passengers and a source of heat, in most cases an open flame caused by burning liquid propane. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant, since it has a lower density than the colder air outside the envelope. As with all aircraft, hot-air balloons cannot fly beyond the atmosphere. The envelope does not have to be sealed at the bottom, since the air inside the envelope is at about the same pressure as the surrounding air. In modern sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric, and the inlet of the balloon (closest to the burner flame) is made from a fire-resistant material such as Nomex. Modern balloons have been made in many shapes, such as rocket ships and the shapes of various commercial products, though the traditional shape is used for most non-commercial and many commercial applications.
The hot-air balloon is the first successful human-carrying flight technology. The first untethered manned hot-air balloon flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes on November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, in a balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers. The first hot-air balloon flown in the Americas was launched from the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia on January 9, 1793 by the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard. Hot-air balloons that can be propelled through the air rather than simply drifting with the wind are known as thermal airships.
A precursor of the hot-air balloon was the sky lantern (simplified Chinese: 孔明灯; traditional Chinese: 孔明燈). Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, during the Three Kingdoms era (220–280 CE), used these airborne lanterns for military signaling.
In the 18th century the Portuguese Jesuit priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão envisioned an aerial apparatus called Passarola, which was the predecessor of the hot-air balloon. The purpose of Passarola was to serve as air vessel in order to facilitate communication and as a strategical device. In 1709 John V of Portugal decided to fund Bartolomeu de Gusmão’s project following a petition made by the Jesuit priest, and an unmanned demonstration was performed at Casa da India in presence of John V, the queen Maria Anna of Austria, having as witnesses the Italian cardinal Michelangelo Conti, two members of the Portuguese Royal Academy of History, one Portuguese diplomat and one chronicler. This event would bring some European attention to this event and this project. A later article dated on October 20, 1786 by the London Daily Universal Register would state that the inventor was able to raise himself by the use of his prototype. Also in 1709, the Portuguese Jesuit wrote Manifesto summário para os que ignoram poderse navegar pelo elemento do ar (Short Manifesto for those who are unaware that is possible to sail through the element air); he also left designs for a manned air vessel.
The notable balloonist Julian Nott, in the 1970s; hypothesized that two millennia ago, the Nazca Lines geoglyphs’ creation could have been guided by Nazca leaders in a balloon, possibly the earliest hot-air balloon flights in human history. In 1975 to support this theory, he designed and piloted the Nazca Prehistoric Balloon, using only methods and materials available to the Pre-Inca Peruvians 1,000 years ago.
The French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier developed a hot-air balloon in Annonay, Ardeche, France, and demonstrated it publicly on September 19, 1783, making an unmanned flight lasting 10 minutes. After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first balloon flight with humans aboard, a tethered flight, performed on or around October 15, 1783, by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, who made at least one tethered flight from the yard of the Reveillon workshop in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Later that same day, Pilatre de Rozier became the second human to ascend into the air, reaching an altitude of 26 m (85 ft), the length of the tether.
Modern hot-air balloons, with an onboard heat source, were developed by Ed Yost, beginning during the 1950s; his work resulted in his first successful flight on October 22, 1960. The first modern hot-air balloon to be made in the United Kingdom (UK) was the Bristol Belle, built in 1967. Presently, hot-air balloons are used primarily for recreation.
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