The Montgolfière — the world's first hot air balloon

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Freely into the sky for the very first time

For months Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfiere had been developing their flying object. They had already let it fly unmanned at their home in Annonay. The Montgolfier was a bag made of linen, covered inside with paper. In September 1783 there was an "anchored" manned experiment in Versailles. On 21 November the balloon flew manned and completely free for the first time near Paris.

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A colorful spectacle — just like the first day

From that point on, people saw the heavens with different eyes. It was something new, seeing the earth from above. To this day, balloon aviation has not lost any of its fascination. And the balloons are still colorful — just as they were the day Montgolfière took flight near Paris.

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Airplanes prevail against airships

The idea of traveling with a vehicle that was lighter than air was developed further with the Zeppelin a full 150 years after the Mongolfier brothers. Unlike the hot air balloon, it was filled with light gas. These airships, however, were not able to assert themselves against the aircraft technology developed at the same time. Airplanes were faster, more agile and more efficient.

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Helium rather than Hydrogen

Zeppelins were initially filled with hydrogen. The gas is simple and inexpensive to produce, but it's unfortunately highly explosive. In 1937, the airship Hindenburg exploded in Lakehurst, USA. The accident ended the great era of zeppelins — for a long time.

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Of limited use to the military

Zeppelins, or blimps, were only used to a very limited extent afterwards. Here, the British Air Force installs blimps as obstacles against German planes in the Second World War. US forces used blimps over the Pacific to search for enemy submarines.

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If you have no other option — use a hot air balloon

In the second half of the 20th century, hot air balloons and gas balloons were used almost exclusively for recreation. People traveled by plane, car or train. Exceptions were gas-filled weather balloons, which sent measuring instruments high into the stratosphere. That said, some people had no choice: Two married couples with four children fled the communist GDR in this hot air balloon in 1979.

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Adventurers in search of the extreme

Others were less desperate, such as the British entrepreneur and adventurer Richard Branson. He set more and more records with his hot air balloon. Here he can be seen crossing the Himalayas in 1998.

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Revival in the 21st century

Ever since the new millenium we've been treated to more zeppelins in our skies. Most are used by tourists, others for special technical tasks and research. The idea of building a zeppelin as a heavy-duty transporter, however, failed. Physics didn't play along. This airship hall in Brandenburg has since been converted into a tropical amusement park and swimming pool.

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Long-duration missions rather than cargo

Here's a project that was feasible, though: a special zeppelin larger than the largest passenger aircraft. It is able to stay in the air, manned, for up to five days. It can act as an observation and communications platform — for example, during missions following natural disasters.

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It's all about quiet and beauty

For most people, however, ballooning does not have to serve a practical purpose. It is also quite alright to just enjoy the view and the tranquillity high up in the air. As the air carries the balloon away, the pilot and passengers will feel will practically no wind at all.

235 years ago, the first manned hot air balloon in human history rose freely into the sky near Paris. It was the beginning of a new era, and from that point on, humankind saw planet earth from a new perspective.