[ Early - 1782 ] [ 1783 - 1849 ] [ 1850 - 1876 ] [ 1877 - 1892 ] [ 1893 - 1903 ] [ 1904 - 1960 ]


November 21 - Francois Laurent the Marquis d' Arlandes and de Rozier make the first manned flight (5 miles) in a Montgolfier brothers hot air balloon. [Copley p.1]

but, prior to this day...

June 5 - Joseph Michel (1740 - 1810) and Jacques Etienne (1745 - 1799) Montgolfier wealthy papermakers of Annonay, France, fly their first unmanned hot air balloon to 6000 feet. It is made of paper-lined linen and held together by buttons.


The Montgolfiers were a big family, to say the least - but two of their sixteen children really stood out: Joseph, born in August 1740 and Etienne, five years his junior. Neither showed any great enthusiasm for the family paper-manufacturing trade, with their father, Pierre, still firmly holding the reins of the factory at Viladon-les-Annonay, south of Lyon. The ageing paterfamilias was probably wondering if his two boys had their heads in the clouds...

Joseph certainly didn't lack imagination. Observing the sky, he concluded that after all he could very easily make a cloud himself: so he got some paper from the factory, made an envelope, filled it with steam - and saw his idea collapse in a mass of sodden paper. Etienne wasn't about to be left out: it was probably his scientific reading that gave him the idea of making a bag float in the air with gas obtained from sulphuric acid and iron filings. Another failure. But then in November 1782, working indoors, Joseph managed to get a taffeta envelope filled with hot air to rise to the ceiling. He summoned his brother: "Get in a stock of taffeta and rope and you'll see one of the most astonishing sights in the whole world!" It was time for serious scientific experiments to begin.

To the amazement of a group of spectators, the Montgolfier brothers soon managed to send a sort of giant paper bag some thirty metres (100 ft) up in the air, using gas obtained by burning a mixture of wet straw and chopped wool. Joseph and Etienne decided to push things further, via a "machine" for taking people into the air - an "aerostat" they called it. "Seraphina", to use their private name for this strange contrivance, was to be a 12-metre (40 ft) envelope made of wrapping fabric lined with paper, with its multiple sections held together by some 2000 buttons. A totally hare-brained idea, according to their critics. After the preliminary tryouts, the first public experiment was scheduled for Annonay on 4 June 1783, just happening to coincide with a meeting of the area's most influential people.

The town square in Annonay was packed, with people struggling to get a look at the balloon spread out on the ground and tied to wooden posts. The fire was lit and the envelope began to fill; some of the spectators became uneasy, not least because of the horrible smell given off by the burning mixture of straw and wool. Under a menacing sky and with the wind beginning to rise, it took several men to hold the enormous balloon down until the order was given to let go. Seraphina took off and a few minutes later was no more than a dot in the sky, some 2000 metres (6500 ft) up. The "aerostat" began to drift and gradually descend, since the hot air was escaping little by little. Rushing after it the local people found it in the middle of a vineyard two kilometres (a mile and a quarter) from where it had taken off.

News of the experiment travelled fast. Soon all Paris was talking balloons and the Montgolfiers even had a competitor in the capital. On August 26 the physicist Jacques Charles sent up a hydrogen balloon from the Champ de Mars: it came to earth in a village 16 kilometres (10 miles) away, where terrified locals attacked this monster from the skies. However the first "accompanied" flight - with a sheep, a rooster and a duck on board - was organised by the Montgolfiers on September 19, from the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. And finally, on November 21, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes climbed into a Montgolfier balloon for the first manned flight. Even Benjamin Franklin was lost for words. The hot-air balloon had been born and on January 19, 1784 the people of Lyon had their chance to admire the invention that began the conquest of space.

Gérard Chauvy


August 27 - Professor Jacques Alexandre César Charles (1746-1823) releases the 13 foot diameter balloon, the Globe from 'Champ de Mars' in Paris. Built by A. J. and M. Noel Robert it is the first hydrogen gas balloon and in two hours it drifts some 15 miles to Gonesse


Charles born in Beaugency Loiret, was a French chemist, physicist, and aeronaut. In 1783 he made the first balloon using hydrogen gas and ascended to a height of nearly 2 miles. In 1787 he discovered the relationship between the volume of gas and temperature. This discovery is known variously as Gay-Lussac's law or Charles's law. He was elected to the French Academy in 1785.


September 19 - the Montgolfier brothers send aloft a sheep, duck and cockerel at Versailles in their hot air balloon Martial


The Montgolfier brothers may not have fully understood the physical basis of the lift produced by the air. For launching, it seemed they wished to use dense choking smoke, produced from damp straw and chopped wool. For a royal demonstration at Versailles in September 1783, Joseph supplemented this with old shoes and rotting meat:

"The King and Queen came up to examine the machine, but the noxious smell thus produced obliged them to retire at once"

There are three possible reasons for their fuel choice. They may have believed that dense smoke had more of the 'virtue of lightness' - a late medieval concept, or that dense smoke would be retained better inside the balloon. Or perhaps they wished to conceal the technique (or, perhaps they were just thick)

Whatever, the smell was of no concern to the brothers, as the pilots for that demonstration flight were a sheep, a cockerel and a duck. Their safe flight dispelled fears that venturing into the upper atmosphere might prove fatal, and confirmed that you only need be as skilled as a small farmyard animal to become a pilot.


October 15 - Jean Francois Pilâtre de Rozier (1756-1785) flies a the Montgolfier brothers hot air balloon Aerostat Reveillon. Tethered, it rises 250 feet, stays aloft for 15 minutes and then lands safely

November 21 - Francois Laurent, Marquis d' Arlandes and Jean Francois Pilâtre de Rozier make the first manned flight (5 miles) in a Montgolfier brothers hot air balloon. [Copley p.1]



The first manned flight took place on 21st November 1783. The envelope of the Montgolfier balloon was made of cotton and paper coated with alum as a form of fire-proofing. Cords sewn into the fabric carried a wicker gallery at the base. The pilots were the Marquis D'Arlandes and Pilatre de Rozier, who stood at opposite sides to balance the balloon and pitchforked straw through two openings into a large brazier mounted in the neck of the balloon (for some reason, the Montgolfier brothers must have been reluctant to fly in a paper balloon with a huge straw fire at the bottom)

Each had a sponge and a bucket of water to put out fires in the envelope. The Marquis had been admiring the view of the Sienne, when Pilatre de Rozier urged him to stoke faster with the words:

"If you look at the river in that fashion you will be likely to bathe in it soon. Some fire, my dear friend, some fire!"

Unfortunately, the Marquis must have heeded the words too well, as soon they noticed that the balloon envelope had burned through in several places - but they could not descend as they were still over the rooftops of Paris. They put out the fires in the envelope and tested the over-heated suspension cords: only two had broken so they put more straw in the brazier and rose again. After a flight of twenty five minutes, obtaining a height of 3000 ft, the balloon cleared Paris and landed in parkland near the present day Place d'Italie


December 1 - Charles and Robert fly the hydrogen gas balloon Charliere

J.A.C. Charles in Paris, he started his own experiments with hydrogen gas. A small test balloon was sent off on the 27th August 1783; and by 1st December a full size version was ready, and made an equally successful ascent from Paris. However, landowner relations were also still in early development; terrified villagers pitchforked the first hydrogen balloon on landing. After this, the French government issued a proclamation to allay public alarm about future experiments:

"Anyone who should see in the sky such a globe should be aware that, far from being an alarming phenomenon, it is only a machine made of taffetas or light canvas covered with paper, that cannot possibly cause any harm, and which will someday prove serviceable to the wants of society."


Martyn's Aerostatic Globe First British designed airship to fly


January 19 - Joseph Montgolfier in Lyon, France makes his only recorded balloon flight

January 24 - Airship history may be said to date from January 24th, 1784. On that day Brisson, a member of the Academy in Paris, read before that Society a paper on airships and the methods to be utilized in propelling them. He stated that the balloon, or envelope as it is now called, must be cylindrical in shape with conical ends, the ratio of diameter to length should be one to five or one to six and that the smallest cross-sectional area should face the wind. He proposed that the method of propulsion should be by oars, although he appeared to be by no means sanguine if human strength would be sufficient to move them. Finally, he referred to the use of different currents of the atmosphere lying one above the other.


General Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier (?-1793) designs a 260 foot long, airship the crew cranking three propellers on a common shaft to give the craft a speed of about 3 mph

June 4 - Mme. Thible, a French opera singer makes the first balloon flight by a woman

September 15 - Vincenzo Lunardi is first to fly in Britain. His hydrogen filled balloon travels from London to Ware in Hertfordshire

also see...

Vincenzo Lunardi, the Italian who made the First Balloon Ascent in England

November 30 - Jean Blanchard, and an American, Dr. John Jeffries (1744-1819) launch their balloon from Rhedarium Garden, London

James Tyler (alt: Tytler) a Scottish writer of Edinburgh makes the first (brief) balloon ascent in Britain


January 7 - Blanchard and Jeffries fly the English Channel in a hydrogen gas balloon

Marie Madeleine Sophie Blanchard. One of the first balloonists, and wife of Jean Blanchard. She was appointed air service chief to Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon planned on invading England by launching an invasion in balloons across the English Channel. Madame Blanchard understood that the flight would occur against prevailing winds and be unsuccessful. She warned him against it, and said that if his generals doubted her word because she was a woman, they should first try it themselves. Napoleon took her advice.

de Rosier and Romain perish as they try to cross the English Channel in a hot-air balloon. They are the first recorded casualties of flight. De Rozier's experimental system consists of a hydrogen balloon and a hot air balloon tied together. Tragically, the craft explodes half an hour after takeoff. This double balloon helium/hot air system, however, remains among the most successful designs for long distance ballooning


January 9 - Blanchard is the first to fly a balloon in America, a 45-minute flight from Philadelphia to Gloucester County, New Jersey. George Washington is present to see the balloon launch




June 26 - Jean Marie Coutelle, using a balloon built for the French Republican Army, makes the military use of a balloon. He made two 4-hour observation ascents during the Battle of Fleurus.


October 22 - André-Jacques Garnerin (1769 - 1823) makes the first successful parachute jump from 6,500 feet over Monceau park Paris in a 23-ft. diameter parachute made of white canvas with a basket attached.

Also recorded is a jump by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard in 1793 [Hellemans and Bunch, 243]



In 1797 a Frenchman, Andre-Jacques Garnerin, ascended in a hydrogen filled balloon to 6500 feet, then released himself in a basket attached to a parachute made of white canvas. Finally someone was able to jump, sail down and land safely on earth - 4000 years after Emperor Shin's hat trick.



Sir George Cayley (1771 - 1857) conceives a craft with stationary wings to provide lift and "flappers" to provide thrust. It also has a movable tail to provide control. He engraves a drawing of this craft on a silver disk which is considered to be the first recorded drawing of a fixed-wing aircraft -- an airplane

Caley is the first to design an aeroplane of modern configuration ie., fixed main wings with a tail unit comprising rudder and elevator ie stabilising and control surfaces [Gibbs p.44]

October 12 - Jeanne Labrosse, first pupil and future wife of Garnerin, jumps from some 900 meters and is regarded as the first woman parachutist

December 6 - John Stringfellow is born in Attercliffe, Sheffield, England


General Resnier de Goue (b.?- d.1811) at the age 72 devises, builds and flies an ornithopter


Francesco Zambeccari (b.1756 - d.?) publishes a seminal work on ballooning and aeronautics

from an item on bibliofind.com...

Francesco Zambeccari: Offered here is a great rarity in the history of ballooning and aeronautics - the original 5 part work by Francesco Zambeccari, published individually in Bologna in 1803. 8vo size. The five individual pieces have various foxing, light wear only else they are excellent copies. "Zambeccari (born 1756)...investigated the peculiarties of atmospheric currents and was the first to conceive the idea of controlling the course of a balloon by rising or sinking from an unfavorable to a favorable current in which oars could be used to advantage." (Abstracted in Scientific American Supplement, New York 1908, V.66, page 215, VA). "...the first aeronaut to show a balloon in England." (History of Flight, Maggs Catalogue No. 619). On September 7, 1804 "The aeronauts Francesco Zambeccari, Grasetti and Andreoli (Italy) made an ascension from Bologna and attempt to direct their balloon in flight. They land in the Adriatic and are rescued the following day." (Jackson, Airships, Page 212). Extremely rare, NUC locates only the Howard copy, that also in 5 parts. Not in Tissander's Bibliographe Aeronautique (Paris 1887); not in Flight Origins and Progress (Zurich, L'Art Ancien, 1980); Not in Gamble, History of Aeronautics; Not in Brockett, Bibliography of Aeronautics; not in numerous other consulted references.[...]


Cayley builds a miniature kite shaped single wing glider. It has a movable tail mounted on a universal joint. It also has a movable weight to adjust the center of gravity. It is the first recorded fixed-wing aircraft of any size capable of flight


Caley is the first to fly an aeroplane of modern configuration - a model with a kite-like main wing and adjustable tail unit [Gibbs p.44]


Cayley realises (most probably in a model) the laterally stabilising effect of the dihedral angle in aeroplane design. [Gibbs p.44]


Cayley is the first to realise that a cambered aerofoil provides more lift than a flat one [Gibbs p.44]

Charles Green discovers Coal Gas a far cheaper gas source than Hydrogen


Cayley builds a full- sized version of his glider with a wing surface of 300 feet. Attempts to fly it are at best short hops into the air. He also begins to publish On Aerial Navigation and for the first time defines the three elements required by an aircraft - lift, propulsion, and control


Replica of Caley's Glider of 1809


1809 -1810

Caley publishes his findings in the triple paper On Aerial Navigation - [full text] [Gibbs p.46]


Leppig builds an airship at the cost of the State at Woronzowo in Russia. This was of the shape of a fish with a rigid framework beginning at the height of the longitudinal axis. The lower keel-shaped part of the same formed the car. Two fans were attached to the sides and a tail piece was provided behind to act as a rudder. The ship was inflated, but structural damage occurred during this operation and rendered it incapable of flight.



October 28 - Dr William Bland, (1789 - 1868) transported to Australia as a convict, after receiving a pardon establishes the first full time medical practice in Sydney. He figures largely in establishing the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and is to become Australia's first aviation pioneer.

December 28 - John Fletcher Hargrave born in England (d.Feb.23, 1885) Fourth son of Joshua Hargrave and to become father of Lawrence Hargrave)


Cayley designs the first streamlined airship and also the first semi-rigid airship [Gibbs p.46]

Pauly and Egg's 'Dolphin' airship


Cayley first proposes the use of separate gas cells in airships [Gibbs p.46]


January 28 - Ann Hargrave first cousin to John Fletcher Hargrave born in England (d.Oct.29, 1885 and to become mother of Lawrence Hargrave)


Francis Forbes (elder son of New South Wales [from here...NSW] Chief Justice Sir Francis Forbes) of Skillaturat Muswellbrook, NSW, proposes a heavier-than-air machine. "The screw-fans or vanes must turn on an axis lying in the plane of the kite and they must be placed behind the kite or at the side to propel it forward" [Copley p.1]


Walker publishes the first design of a tandem wing aeroplane in the second edition of his Treatise upon the Art of Flying. This almost certainly influence D. S. Brown and through him, Samuel Pierpont Langley


Charles Green 'flies' The Great Balloon of Nassau, of 2410 cu m (85,000 cu ft) capacity, from London's Vauxhall Gardens to Weilburg, Germany, some 800 km (about 500 mi) in 18 hours

Lennox's Eagle is designed to link the capitals of Europe. It is never built.


Cayley designs a steam driven airship project with streamlined gas bag


June 1 - The Sydney Morning Herald publishes a letter from 'Aeronaut' (possibly Francis Forbes?) claiming to have invented a "powered balloon some twenty years earlier" He felt that the ordinary balloon did not "accomplish the great end of periodical or exact transit" In order to make the balloon transit more exact he thought "we might ascend by mechanical contrivance by which means instead of being at the mercy of atmospheric currents we might make them subservient to our wishes" [Copley p.1,2] [Carroll p.10]

March 24 - William Samuel Henson (1812-1888) in London, on or about this date, receives the patent, and publishes a design in 'Mechanics' magazine, for a fixed wing airplane powered by a steam engine driving two propellers. The Aerial Steam Carriage is the first known design for an airscrew-propelled modern-configuration monoplane. Henson and Stringfellow file articles of incorporation for the Aerial Transit Company and begin work on models with wingspans up to 20 feet.


[...] John Stringfellow was born in Attercliffe, Sheffield, on 6 December 1799. When he was a teenager his family moved to Nottingham, and he went into the lace industry. He became a Bobbin and Carriage Maker, and later, when the Luddites began to make trouble, moved south to work in one of the two lace mills in Chard. He developed amazing skill at making steam engines, and in about 1842 he teamed up with William Samuel Henson, who was interested in aeronautics, and had already taken out a patent for a plane.

Henson had tremendous ambitions. He not only applied for a patent on a 'Locomotive Apparatus for Air, Land, and Water' but also tried to set up an airline! He made a model of the plane in the patent, and tried to fly it in London, but it was a complete flop - literally. So Henson came back to Chard, and together they worked on a new plane with a 20-foot wingspan and a wonderful Stringfellow steam engine. But it took two years to build, and by 1845 Henson was losing his enthusiasm. He moved back to London, got married, emigrated to America, and patented a new safety razor.

Stringfellow carried on alone, and when the 20-footer was finished he got workmen to carry it up to Bala Down, located about 1/2 mile west of Chard, for testing. He was so upset by people making fun of his work that he did this secretly, at night, and tried the first flight under cover of darkness. But the silk fabric, wet with dew, drooped and became so heavy the machine could not fly. He tried by day, every day for seven weeks, and finally had to admit defeat. Then, for the first time, Stringfellow designed his own aircraft from scratch.

The wingspan was 10 feet. The spars were of wood and the fabric of silk. The steam engine and boiler, with paper-thin copper walls, was carried in the gondola below the fuselage. The total weight of the craft was probably about 9lbs. By the summer of 1848 she was ready to fly. The two propellers were huge, with helical pitch, and rotated in opposite directions to give lateral stability. His aircraft had no vertical fin, and he knew it would tend to veer left or right at the slightest disturbance. That is why he flew it inside one of the lace mills, where the air was still.

The space was so narrow - about 17 feet between the wall and the central row of pillars - that he had little room for error; so he launched the aircraft by allowing it to run for ten yards down a wire. This ensured that the machine started flying in exactly the right direction, and at a reasonable speed. According to his son Fred's eyewitness account, the first flight was a bit of a disaster. The aircraft rose sharply from the end of the wire, stalled, and dropped back on its tail, which broke. But a later flight was a spectacular success; the plane flew for more than 10 yards before punching a hole in the canvas screen at the end of the mill.

© Adam Hart-Davis 1995

Inventors World Magazine: First Powered Flight

September 20 - John Fletcher Hargrave marries his first cousin Ann Hargrave at St Mark's Church, Woodhouse, Leeds


October 8 - Philip John Hargrave first child of John and Ann Hargrave born in England. (d.Dec.24, 1844)


February 2 - Grace Hargrave second child of John and Ann Hargrave born in England, (d.Jun.9, 1850)


Henson tests the first steam-driven, airscrew-propelled aeroplane, a model. Based on his 'Aerial Steam Carriage' of 1843 it fails to fly. [Gibbs p.52]. Stringfellow's most recognised work appeared in the form of a steam powered triplane, the main bridge between Cayley's work and modern aeronautics


Stringfellow carries on Henson's work, and tests his own steam-driven model monoplane. It fails to make sustained flights. [Gibbs p.52]

June 24 - Ralph Hargrave third child of John and Ann Hargrave born in England. (d.1888)

[ Early - 1782 ] [ 1783 - 1849 ] [ 1850 - 1876 ] [ 1877 - 1892 ] [ 1893 - 1903 ] [ 1904 - 1960 ]


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