November 21st, 1783 – First Untethered Hot Air Balloon Flight


In Paris, on November 21st, 1783Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes, make the first untethered hot air balloon flight.

Early_flight_02562u_(4)It was earlier that year, in June 1783, that Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier witnessed the first public demonstration of a balloon by the Montgolfier brothers. On September 19th, he assisted with the untethered flight of a sheep, a cockerel and a duck from the front courtyard of the Palace of Versailles. The French King Louis XVI decided that the first manned flight would contain two condemned criminals, but de Rozier enlisted the help of the Duchess de Polignac to support his view that the honour of becoming first balloonists should belong to someone of higher status, and the Marquis d’Arlandes agreed to accompany him. The King was persuaded to permit d’Arlandes and de Rozier to become the first pilots.

After several tethered tests to gain some experience of controlling the balloon, de Rozier and d’Arlandes made their first untethered flight in a Montgolfier hot air balloon on November 1783 21st, taking off at around 2 p.m. from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne, in the presence of the King. Their 25-minute flight travelled slowly about 5½ miles (some 9 km) to the southeast, attaining an altitude of 3,000 feet, before returning to the ground at the Butte-aux-Cailles, then on the outskirts of Paris.


Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier (March 30th, 1754 – June 15th, 1785)

Along with Joseph Montgolfier, he was one of six passengers on a second flight on January 19th, 1784, with a huge Montgolfier balloon Le Flesselles launched from Lyon. Four French nobles paid for the trip, including a prince. Several difficulties had to be overcome. The wallpaper used to cover the balloon’s envelope became wet because of extreme weather conditions. The top of the balloon was made of sheep- or buckskin. The air was heated by wood in an iron stove: to start, the straw was set on fire with brandy. (In other tests charcoal or potatoes were used). The balloon had a volume of approximately 23,000 m³, over 10 times that of the first flight, but it only flew a short distance. The spectators kneeled down when the balloon came down too quickly. That evening the aeronauts were celebrated after listening to Gluck‘s opera, Iphigénie en Tauride.

Rozier took part in a further flight on June 23rd, 1784, in a modified version of the Montgolfiers’ first balloon christened La Marie-Antoinette after the Queen, which took off in front of the King of France and King Gustav III of Sweden. Together with Joseph Proust, the balloon flew north at an altitude of approximately 3,000 metres, above the clouds. They travelled 52 km in 45 minutes before cold and turbulence forced them to descend past Luzarches, between Coye et Orry-la-Ville, near the Chantilly forest. They set records for speed, altitude and distance travelled.

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“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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