November 21, 1783 – First Human Flight

Oddly enough, the history of flight has been driven by sets of brothers. Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier from Lyon, France dreamed of being up among the clouds. They experimented with balloons filled with hot air. In June, 1783, they successfully launched an unmanned balloon. Then in September, they sent up a cock, a duck, and a sheep. Finally on November 21, 1783, two men volunteered for a manned mission: Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, a professor of physics and chemistry, and the Marquis Francois Laurant d’Arlandes. Their hot-air balloon lifted off from La Muettte, a royal palace in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. They flew nearly six miles in 25 minutes, reaching an altitude of around 300-ft. Spectators included Ben Franklin and King Louis XVI, who had offered to send two prisoners. Rozier, however, wanted to deny criminals the glory of being the first men to go into the atmosphere.

A 1783 drawing of the first hot-air balloon to take men aloft. It was designed by the French brothers Joseph Michel and Jacques Étienne Montgolfier.

A 1783 drawing of the first hot-air balloon to take men aloft. It was designed by the French brothers Joseph Michel and Jacques Étienne Montgolfier.

The balloon used measured 2,200 cubic meters (that’s over 77,600 cubic feet!), and was propelled by an iron furnace. It would be only 120 more years until another set of brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, made the first successful human flight in an airplane.

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