Aviation & Champagne
In France, on the 19th Sept, 1783 the Montgolfier brothers successfully launched their first load carrying hot air balloon balloon made of paper and cloth. To inflate the craft they burned a combination of straw, chopped wool and dried horse manure underneath the balloon. As the straw burned it released heat that helped the balloon float. The wool and manure made lots of smoke and helped keep the burning flame low, which lessened the risk of setting the balloon alight.
The First Crew: Sheep, Duck and Rooster
The brothers were too nervous to try out their invention themselves so they sent a sheep, a duck and a rooster to see what would happen. The balloon floated up into the sky and landed safely eight minutes later.
Once the Montgolfier brothers realised what they had achieved they approached the King of France to see if he would view their invention, with two people on board instead of farm yard animals. King Louis XVI agreed.
The first balloon pilots were criminals
Louis XVI of France ordered the first manned balloon flight. Because he feared that the pilots could die in this untested means of flight, he chose two people who were destined to die anyway, Jean-Francois Pilate De Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes who were criminals sentenced to death.
The word ‘pilot’ …
… is derived from ‘Pilatre’, the name of the first person to command an aerial vehicle.
Aliens from the Sky
In 18th century France, there were educated people living in the city and there were landowners and peasants in the country. People in the rural areas often had little contact and connection to what was going on in the city.
So, picture this, you are a peasant working in the fields and all of the sudden you see this balloon floating through the air with fire coming out of it. Is it an alien? An attacker? For peasants who hadn’t heard of hot air ballooning, the sight of a balloon falling from the sky surprised and often frightened them; especially when they saw the pilots face covered in black from ash and soot from the fire keeping the balloon aloft.
To avoid being attacked by the people they surprised, hot air balloon pilots carried Champagne with them as a way to let onlookers know they were human and to thank them for the safe landing in their field.
As the hot air balloon landed in the vineyard, local farmers raced towards it with pitchforks, ready to attack this strange object from the skies. To prevent the balloon being destroyed by the farmers Pilatre and Francious offered them a bottle of fine french champagne, as thanks for allowing them to land in the field.
Today, in memory of that first flight it is common to drink champagne after a balloon ride.