The Art in Taking Flight

I’ve gone back and forth on what topic I was going to choose  to talk about for this blog post. I thought about the upcoming holiday, Thanksgiving, and thought, besides the company of family, the sharing of food, who doesn’t love  an awesome balloon?? A balloon you might ask? Of course!? Let me explain.

The earliest type of unmanned hot air balloon’s were first used in China during the Three Kingdoms Era (220-280AD) of the Shu Han Kingdom. The lanterns that were used were called Kongming Lanterns which were used for military signaling, but later became a tradition at Chinese festivals. They are also known as “Sky Lanterns”. These lanterns were made from oiled paper on a bamboo frame and and the heat source was a small candle made from a waxy flammable material.


Kongming Lantern – The oldest type of hot air balloon. (photo taken by  unknown source)

     On June 4th, 1783, Jacques-Etienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier launched the first large scale balloon flight from Annonay, France. The brothers wanted to have a public demonstration to make a claim on their balloon invention. They designed the balloon to be globe- shaped, made of sackcloth with three thin layers of paper inside. The constructed fabric globe could contain nearly 28,000 cubic feet of air and weighed 500lb. The pieces consisted of the dome and three lateral pieces, held together by 1,800 buttons. Reinforcing fish net cord covered the outside of it.


Please click on image to see it on a larger scale.

Exhibited: “The Dream of Flight” (between 1890-1900) Created by: Unknown Artist.

First public demonstration in Annonay, France, June 4th, 1783.

     The balloon flew for the public as well as for a group of dignitaries from the Etats particulars  at Annonay.  The flight lasted 10 minutes and covered 1.2 miles and had an estimate altitude of 5,200-6,600ft.

     The brothers then got together with Jean-Baptiste Reveillon , a successful wallpaper manufacturer to discuss designs for their next balloon. The new balloon consisted of 37,000 cubic feet of taffeta coated with a varnish of alum which has fireproofing properties. It was designed with golden flourishes, signs of the Zodiac, and suns.


Please click on balloon to see it on a larger scale.

A model of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon at the London Science Museum. (Unknown artist, unknown year it was made)

The test of flight that included animals  was on September 19, 1783, at the royal palace of Versailles. There was concern about how the flight would effect living creatures since they wanted to fly the balloon at a high altitude. The King at the time, King Louis XVI of France suggested that criminals be sent up in the balloon as guinea pigs to see if the altitude is safe. That idea was dismissed and it was agreed upon that a duck, a sheep, and a rooster would be the first living creatures to take flight.  Also in attendance to this exciting moment was  Queen Marie Antoinette, along with several excited watchers from the crowd. 

With the success of these flights, Etienne began to work with Reveillon again, making a balloon for human flight. The ballon was 75 feet tall and 50 feet in diameter. Etienne Montgolfier was the first person to lift off the Earth in the balloon. The date of that occurrence more than likely took place on October 15, 1783. Below is a what that balloon looked like. Truly a piece of art.


Please click on image to view in larger scale.

A 1786 depiction of the Montgolfier brothers’ historic balloon with engineering data. (Unknown artist, unknown date created)

Since the success of the Montgolfier brothers, the hot air balloon is still being used today for people to enjoy. For example, Benoit  Lambert, who is a huge Star Wars fan from Belgium, received permission from Lucas film to hire Cameron, the worlds largest manufacturer of hot air balloons to make a replica of Darth Vader, and this is what they came up with.


Please click on image view in larger scale.

Darth Vader hot air balloon. “Head One”,  Created by Cameron Manufacturing, 2005.

d4bed9d4d220139df57d11Jonathan Trappe Crosses The Alps In Helium Balloon Flight

Jonathan Trappe flies in his balloon cluster September 12, 2013.  “N878UP”, (2013), created by Jonathan Trappe

This has the appearance of a hot air balloon but is made with helium balloons. His attempt was to fly across the Atlantic Ocean but did not make it all the way there. I added this into the blog because it appears similar to a hot air balloon and it gives the same effect. Humans in flight, and it’s beautiful.

To me, these balloons are works of art suspended above Earth. I love it.

And last but not least, the balloons that are displayed every year during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. The thought and work and team effort to haul these down the street is astounding.

I love balloons.



7 thoughts on “The Art in Taking Flight

  1. I can tell you love balloons! I had no idea the amazing history behind a balloon and I never thought of it being a piece of art. It wasn’t until this last summer that I saw the sky lanterns at a wedding party. I didn’t know they had some historical significance. Really great job!

  2. I really enjoyed your presentation! I can really tell that you you love the topic of these balloons! You have a passion for the engineering and design and it is evident in your voice. You did a wonderful job explaining the background information for these pieces and how they have evolved overtime. I thoroughly enjoyed your work. I especially liked your use of multiply photos and videos to help express the beauty and wonder in these balloons!

  3. I have to admit, at first I was thinking, ” What do balloons have to do with Turkey Day?”, but I get it now. Funny to think that the Chinese would use balloons in war, but in that day and age, it was state of the art technology — stuff no one had ever seen before, let alone heard of. Also, a duck, sheep, and a rooster sounds like the start of a joke. Very creative, good job.

  4. Fantastic Blog!!! I really like the way you told the history of the Balloon and the way it evolved from ancient military communication, to flight experimentation and now human entertainment. Love the colors and design on the Motgolfer Brothers balloon. Their balloon seems to be just another great example of the enlightenment era. Thanks for sharing.

  5. This is a cool blog! I had no idea the history of the hot air balloon. I hadn’t ever really thought of them as works of art but they definitely are. Nice idea starting with the Chinese unmanned balloons

  6. I, too, struggled with what to do this final post on. So much so, that I struggled a week to finish it. With so much to choose from, it seemed important to choose something special. I appreciate your unusual topic and the effort you put into it. Who doesn’t love hot air balloons? This was a really interesting blog! You did a great job on it; so celebrate by releasing a balloon! Thanks for sharing.

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