Strange stories from ballooning past


Strange stories from hot air ballooning’s past

A hot air balloon flight is a great experience. Often birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated onboard people propose to a loved one. Fortunately no one breaks up.

Today a Hot air balloon flights is safe thing to do, but in the past, they were often used in ways that were, to say the least, a little ‘out there’. Here are some examples:

Criminals tested out hot air balloons

When hot air balloons were first invented, people were not very keen to hop aboard. They feared that the flames used to heat the air inside the balloon canopy would cause a fire, resulting in a rapid plunge into the ground. So for the first balloon flight 2 condemned criminals were chosen to pilot the balloon. As they were condemned to die anyway, it was felt that it did not matter if they perished. Fortunately, they survived and proved that hot air ballooning could be safe.

Champagne for angry farmers

A sip of champagne is often used to celebrate the successful completion of a hot air balloon flight. But in the early days of ballooning, farmers often got angry when a balloon landed in their field. The gentlemen that flew in the balloons came up with the idea of offering farmers champagne to calm them down. It worked then and it continues to work today.

Balloons used for military surveillance 

In World War I, both sides of the conflict launched hot air balloons behind the front lines to observe and locate enemy targets and pass messages to the artillery on where to aim. To retaliate the enemy used aircraft to shoot the balloons down. Anti-aircraft guns were used to defend the balloons. If any were burst the observer would jump out and parachute to the ground. It worked some of the time, apparently.

A hot air balloon duel

At one time, it was common for men to settled disputes with a duel. In 1808, two Frenchmen competing for the hand of the same lady decided to have a balloon duel. The ascended in hot air balloons then fired pistols at each other’s balloons. One balloon burst, killing the occupants. The other survived, the man was unharmed and declared the winner of the duel. 

The basketless smoke balloon

In the 19th Century, traveling fairs often featured stuntmen who were tied to a smoke balloon without a basket. As the balloon rose, the stuntman would be dragged into the air dangling on a rope below the balloon.. When the balloon reached its highest point, the stuntman would detach by cutting the rope with a knife separating himself from the balloon and fall back down using a parachute, much to the delight of the crowd below.

Hot air balloon flights, of course, have come a long way and it is now perfectly safe way to fly with a trained pilot. There is no need to face the dangers that criminals, military observers, stuntmen, and champagne-carrying aristocrat once experienced to enjoy the thrill of riding in a hot air balloon


Clare Allen