A Brazilian priest and inventor named Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão was one of the earliest pioneers of balloon aviation history. He conducted experiments in 1709 with hot air balloons.
The first aircraft passengers in the world were animals. French brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier sent an unmanned hot air balloon aloft on June 4, 1783, and followed this experiment on September 19 by launching a balloon with a sheep, rooster, and a duck on board. This flight covered 1.5 miles. Try to get on your average airliner today with a sheep, rooster, and a duck and see what the flight attendant does.
François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent made the first manned balloon flight in history on November 21, 1783. A couple of tethered flights had taken place earlier and this flight was un-tethered. It covered 5.5 miles and took 23 minutes. The balloonists burned straw and wool to replenish the hot air in the balloon, which was made of linen. In December of the same year J.-A.-C.Charles, and Nicolas-Louis Robert made the first flight in in history in a helium balloon.
Military applications for the balloon were perceived by Napoleon Bonaparte. He used tethered balloons for observation posts in some of his battles. They were also used for this purpose by both sides in the American Civil War in the United States. There was limited use for this purpose as late as W.W.I.
Airships made their debut in 1852 when Frenchman Henry Giffard flew his cigar shaped craft over Paris. The ship could fly up to six miles per hour and was powered by a steam engine turning a prop.
Dirigibles saw some use in commercial passenger transport, but their susceptibility to bad weather and their extreme slowness limited use. The steam engine in use at the time of the airships birth were too heavy to be of real sound use. By the time engines were developed which were practical for them, these same engines saw service in the airplanes which made dirigibles obsolete.
Their military use was limited because of their vulnerability to airplane attack, but the Germans did use them to bomb Paris and London during the First World War. The Allies used dirigibles mainly for submarine patrol.
German Count Ferdinand von Zeppilin developed an airship which served as a prototype for airship design for many years. They were used for commercial passenger service from about 1910 until 1937. Both overland and trans-oceanic flights were made. The susceptibility of airships to storms and the development of better aircraft doomed the airship to extinction. The German Hindenburg was the biggest and last of the great airships. It was filled with hydrogen gas, and crashed and burned near Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937 after making 10 trans-Atlantic runs.
Balloons, dirigibles and airships are all part of the long story of the history of transportation in human existance. They all made their contributions to the science of aviation and the furtherance of knowledge.
History of Flight and Avaition