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Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond Reports on the First Aerial Voyages

1783 to 1784

French geologist and traveller Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond published Description des expériences de la machine aerostatique de MM. Montgolfier, et de celles auxquelles cette découverte a donné lieu and Première suite de la description des expériences aérostatiques de MM. Montgolfier, et de celles auxquelles cette découverte a donné lieu from Paris in two volumes in 1783 and 1784. Saint-Fond's work was the first full-length account of the historic experiments with balloon flight conducted by paper manufacturers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier in 1783. After some unsatisfactory experiments with hydrogen gas (which dissipated too quickly from their trial models), the Montgolfiers discovered that air heated to 100 degrees Celsius became sufficiently rarified to lift a balloon and did not diffuse. On June 5, 1783 the brothers released their first full-sized balloon, a paper and linen globe thirty-five feet in diameter, which rose 6,000 feet and travelled a horizontal distance of 7,668 feet from the starting point. On September 19, before Louis XVI and the French court at Versailles, they launched the first flight with living beings aboard (a sheep, a cock and a duck); and on November 20 the first manned flight took place.  

The invention of the hot-air “Montgolfière,” as well as its obvious limitations, stimulated renewed research into the possibility of using hydrogen as a lifting agent. Development of the hydrogen balloon proceeded simultaneously with that of the hot-air model, and on December 1 the first passenger-carrying hydrogen balloon, designed and manned by the physicist Jacques Charles, with Nicholas-Louis Robert as co-pilot, ascended for a two-hour voyage.  

Charles’s work was financed through the efforts of Faujas de Saint-Fond, whose account of it appears in the second volume of his work. A few copies of volume 1 were issued separately. When volume 2 was published the following year volume 1 was reissued with a 4-page supplement, describing the voyage of November 20.

Chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, a commissioner appointed by the Académie des Sciences to study the Montgolfier balloon, was among the authors of a report dated December 23, 1783 which was published on pages 200-231 of volume 2.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 769. Davy, Interpretive History of Flight 37-41. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 229. En français dans le texte 75. 

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