History of Ballooning

The below is a brief history of how modern-day ballooning came to be.

France 1783 – Man takes to the Air

In 1783 man first took to the air and land safely using a flying machine known as a Hot Air Balloon. Two French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, built the balloon ‘Montgolfier’ out of paper and silk. On 21 November 1783, in Paris, witnessed by a crowd of 400,000 people, two French noblemen,Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis D’Arlandes, became the first humans to fly.

The balloon, 13 metres in diameter, was fuelled with burning wool and straw. The men stayed aloft for 23 minutes and travelled a distance of 8 kilometres, finally landing in a field outside Paris.

Balloon Flight in Australia – 1858

It was another 75 years before Australia witnessed it’s first balloon ascent. On February 1st 1858 in the then, rural setting of Richmond, Melbourne Victoria, Englishman, Joseph Dean took to the skies in a hot air balloon. Becoming the first person to achieve flight in Australia.

The 18m high gas balloon, built in England by fellow Aeronaut Charles Brown was inflated using gas from the City of Melbourne’s gasworks plant at Black Swamp. Strong winds on the day of the flight prevented both men from flying. After reports of some vigorous arguments, Brown hopped out of the basket and let Dean receive the glory.

The flight lasted 25 minutes landing near the town of Heidlberg, a distance of approximately 8 km. Two weeks later, Charles Brown got his chance to fly but on landing had the misfortune of being bashed by a superstitious mob, who believed that it was evil for humans to fly.

The Rebirth of Balloon Flight – 1960

With the invention of the aeroplane 1903 people become more interested on powered flight and ballooning became less popular and faded into the background.

It wasn’t till the 1960 when the American, Ed Yost developed the propane burner and lightweight fabrics were developed that ballooning again became popular.

Around 1962 a group Sydney University students began experimenting with hot air balloons and formed the Aerostat Society of Australia. On 4th July 1963 near Parkes NSW Terry MacCormack became the first man in over 40 years to take to the skies in a hot air balloon in Australia.

The balloon named ‘Archimedes’ had volume of 18,000 cuft. Was 32ft wide, 44 ft high. Weighing around 75kg. The pilot stood on a wooden platform with the gas tank. The balloon struggled maintain lift with the pilot having to drop his parachute to gain altitude. It achieved an altitude of 2000 ft and covered 5km during the 15minute duration. The inadequate power of the burner resulted in a heavy landing with Terry flipped upside down and becoming entangled in the ropes supporting his platform.

Whilst the Australian enthusiasts carried on bravely experimenting with different fabrics and improving burner performance it was the members of the Bristol (UK) Gliding Club who are credited with designing the balloon which you still flying today.

The modern era of ballooning had begun the ‘Bristol Belle’ took to the skies in 9th July 1967, from RAF Weston-on-the-Green.

Australian Made

Ballooning remained the domain of the enthusiast and in 1979 Phil Kavanagh, (Kavanagh Balloons Australia), started building small sport balloons for these people.

Ballooning turned commercial in 1986 when Chris Dewhirst started a company called Balloon Sunrise and opened up for business. Ballooning had come to the people.

Since Chris’s first flight the face of ballooning has changes rapidly. Today annually over 200,000 passengers enjoy ballooning with commercial operations found nearby all major cities and tourist locations throughout Australia.

Over 250 balloons are registered in Australia today with the Australian Balloon Federation alongside the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) providing regulation and pilot training.

Whilst manufactures around the world since the flight of ‘Bristol Belle’ have improved technology, enabling them to construct larger balloons in all sorts of shapes. Whilst they have introduced improved fabric, to extent the life of the aircraft, made the burners more powerful and quieter, improved the deflation systems, and made baskets larger and more comfortable.

The balloon you fly in today is not that much different to what was flown so many years ago. And that’s is a large part of the appeal, magic and fascination of ballooning.

Playing with something old and using something as simple as a mix of hot air and bit of wind from nature to get nowhere in particular.

It’s fun too, history proves it.


Ed Yost – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Yost
Bristol Bell – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Belle
Graham Wilson – http://members.ozemail.com.au/~p0gwil/
Helene Rogers

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