French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier developed a hot-air balloon in Annonay, France. After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first free flight with human passengers was made on November 21, 1783. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots, but Pilatre de Rozier, along with Marquis François d'Arlandes, petitioned successfully for the honor.
The advancement of hot air balloons can be seen in the fabrics, baskets, fuel systems, and burners.
Today, hot air balloons are built out of "rip-stop" nylon or polyester fabrics. These fabrics have a silicon and/or polyurethane coating to keep them airtight. The baskets are built from wicker, allowing for flexibility. Balloons do not have landing gear, so having baskets that flex is imperative. The fuel used is propane, which is fed to a powerful burner, admitting roughly 30million BTUs.
Hot Air Balloons are primarily flown recreationally. Most balloon pilots reference boating when it comes to hot air ballooning. Just like you would get a group of friends and family together to go out to the lake on the weekend, balloon pilots mirror that, but float the skies.
Passenger flights are the most common "for hire" flights, however, there are a few other options. Tether rides at events, "special shape" ballooning, and corporate advertising are all very popular.
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