Aviation history : Human flights with balloons


Flying boat by Francesco de Lana-Terzi

In the 17th century, an Italian Jesuit priest named Francesco de Lana-Terzi was the one who forecast how man would eventually cut the bonds of gravity.  He believed correctly that a vessel containing no air was lighter than one that did; in 1670, he completed the first proper design for a lighter-than-air craft, comprising a boat hull with mast and sail borne up by four tethered paper-thin copper spheres from which all the air had to be extracted. In fact, Lana did not perceive the most serious shortcoming in his proposal: atmosphere pressure would have crushed the flimsy copper vacuum spheres.


Portugal – 9 November 1983

Bartolomeu de Gusmão


Lana’s work represented the first scientific effort to design a lighter-than-air craft; in fact, he conceived the forerunner of the balloon that was to come during the 18th century.


On 8 August 1709, the Portuguese Brazilian-born Jesuit, Father Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, demonstrated a model hot-air balloon before King John V of Portugal; the rounded envelope of thick paper was inflated by heated air from burning materials carried in a suspended earthenware bowl.


Although he never succeeded with a full-scale model, De Gusmão’s demonstration was a perfect miniature blueprint for the larger hot-air balloons that appeared almost three quarters of a century later with the French Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne. The first public demonstration of a hot-air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers was made on 4 June 1783; when released, the balloon of linen and paper rose to a height of 300m and flew for over a mile. On 19 September of the same year, they conducted a royal demonstration in Versailles, in the presence of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette; three passengers - a cock, a duck and a sheep - were carried in a wicker basket as guinea-pigs in order to test the effect of high altitude on live creatures. With the successful demonstration at Versailles, Etienne started construction of a 2,200-cubic-meter balloon for the purpose of making flights with humans. The balloon was tested in tethered or captive flights on 15 October by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a twenty-six-year-old physician, who offered his services. On 21 November 1783, the first free (untethered) flight by humans was made by Pilâtre, together with the Marquis François-Laurent d’Arlandes; they landed five miles away, some twenty-five minutes after launching, reaching a height of 900 meters. The balloon was propelled by an iron furnace.


One of the old dreams of humankind then had been realized, taken from testing a concept to a real flight in the span of one year. That event is often considered the first time humankind flew, more than a century before the Wright Brothers took to the skies.


A period of balloon madness ensued the first manned flight, especially with the hydrogen balloons which slowly took prominence and offered greater possibilities. Less than two weeks after the ground-breaking Montgolfier flight, Frenchman Jacques Charles made the first untethered ascension with gas hydrogen balloon on 1 December 1783. In addition to being a vehicle of pleasure, balloons became also used for military purposes, i.e. as observation/reconnaissance platforms and for bombardments. Balloonists had solved only one of manned flight’s problems, i.e. lifting from the ground; but they were still unable to direct the course of their aerials travels.


With the emergence of new materials and propane-gas flame as heating agent, colorful and popular hot-air balloons have staged a remarkable comeback as a popular sport. Hot-air balloons became know as Montgolfières and hydrogen balloons as Charlières.


The bicentennial of human flight with balloons was celebrated at ICAO with an exhibition displaying major events in the history of flight as well as future prospects of space techniques for civil aviation. Several art works and historical posters on aviation were on view including a Gobelins tapestry on The History of Flight donated to ICAO by France in 1975, and children’s art works from some 30 countries which were selected as a result of an international children’s art contest under the general theme of A World that Moves on Wings launched on the occasion of the International Year of the Child in 1978 and the 75th anniversary of the first heavier-than-air engine-powered flight.


Somalia – 31 December 1977 - 30th Anniversary of ICAO

Montgolfier highly decorated hot-air balloon,

as per flight on 21 November 1783.


Guyana – 26 October 1984 - 40th Anniversary of ICAO

Sheetlet of 25 stamps with serial number.

The original issue of 1980 was later overprinted twice.

The first overprint was for the bicentennial of the first manned flight (1783‑1983) and the 20th anniversary of Guyana Airways.

The second overprint was for the 40th anniversary of ICAO.

 The three letters correspond to IATA airport codes in Guyana.

The main airport, Timehri International, is near Georgetown.

Note that Mont Golfier should be written in one word: Montgolfier.


Uganda – 29 October 1984 – 40th Anniversary of ICAO

Hot‑air balloons race  


One of the seven children’s drawings, resulting from the international art contest, shown at ICAO Headquarters on the fifth floor of the Conference Center.