NARRATOR: It was the first human flight.
120 years before the Wright Brothers,
a pair of 18th century French brothers
built a series of hot air balloons
and took a great leap into the unknown.
MAN: They weren't sure that if you get a few hundred feet
above the surface of the earth,
there would still be air to breathe up there.
NARRATOR: Incredibly, the historic flight
that first took a pair of brave voyagers
3,000 feet into the sky
might have gone unnoticed in the English-speaking world
if not for an eye-witness account
written by America's first scientific genius,
FRANKLIN (dramatized): "Presently, the globe was seen to rise.
"It diminished in apparent magnitude as it rose,
till it enter'd the clouds."
NARRATOR: Now, a team of experts, including a direct descendant
of the inventors of the hot air balloon,
is attempting to build a replica.
If you make this balloon here, you won't have any problems.
NARRATOR: They hope to recreate that historic flight
in a flammable paper and cotton balloon
dangerously powered by an open fire.
MAN: They had sponges on long sticks
so they could dab burning spots inside the balloon.
NARRATOR: What was it like to leave Earth for the very first time?
WOMAN (translated): It's magic.
It must be magic.
How can it rise into the air?
NARRATOR: Relive "Benjamin Franklin's Balloons," right now on NOVA.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by the NARRATOR: A spring morning in central France.
Working in the pre-dawn gloom,
a team of experts assembles an enormous flying machine.
There's been nothing quite like it for 230 years.
(translated): Careful, there are a lot of hanging parts everywhere.
NARRATOR: In the next several hours, they will attempt to recreate
one of the most important achievements
in the history of technology: the first human flight.
Over the course of nearly two years,
this team has spent countless hours researching,
and struggling to rebuild the first flying machine.
According to eyewitnesses, the original version
took two daring Frenchmen on a 25-minute flight
3,000 feet into the air and changed the world.
TOM CROUCH: No human being had ever made a free flight.
That was the first time.
They had no idea what was going to happen.
NARRATOR: Now they are about to recreate that historic moment
in this untested replica.
In the 18th century, the stakes were high.
And even today, the risks are significant.
Carefully, they set a brazier full of straw alight,
watching anxiously as the giant structure
fills with smoke and flame.
If all goes as planned, they hope to find answers
to questions that have fascinated historians
How dangerous was that first flight more than 200 years ago?
How high could the balloon carry them?
How far could it travel?
And how did those inexperienced pilots
somehow manage to guide it and themselves safely back to earth?
The story of the first human flight begins in Annonay, France
with two brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier.
The Montgolfier family owned a large and highly successful
Joseph, twelfth of 16 children, was a born inventor,
a dreamer who chafed at the demands of the family business.
His younger brother Etienne
was the more practical-minded of the two.
He had trained in Paris as an architect
and was a skilled mathematician.
Together, they formed a brilliant team.
In France, the Montgolfier brothers are as famous
as the Wright brothers are in the U.S.
NARRATOR: Thanks to their pioneering creations,
in less than two years, beginning in 1783,
earthbound humanity discovered
how to rise thousands of feet in the air,
traverse miles of countryside,
and incredibly, in 1785, fly across the English Channel.
According to Montgolfier family history,
it all began with a lucky bit of laundry
left to dry in a fireplace.
Legend has it that Joseph Montgolfier
noticed his wife's blouse inflate with hot air and rise,
sparking the idea for a flying machine.
Even so, he failed to grasp why the shirt rose.
Not understanding that heat causes air to expand and rise,
he mistakenly believed that he had discovered
a new substance in the smoke that was lighter than air.
It's not as crazy as it sounds.
Scientists had recently discovered that air
is actually a mixture of many different gases.
TOM CROUCH: In the 18th century,
they were fascinated by the chemistry of the atmosphere
and they began to tease the first constituent gases
out of the air.
NARRATOR: By 1776, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen
had all been discovered, as well as hydrogen,
an explosive gas that was known to be lighter than air.
So why not assume that smoke
contained yet another type of gas also lighter than air?
The brothers proudly dubbed their so-called discovery
(translated): For my family, it represented a huge change;
it was a big turning point in their lives
and in their business
that took place on that winter eve in front of the fireplace.
NARRATOR: Now Guillaume de Montgolfier, a direct descendant,
along with an experienced balloon builder
and a team of historians,
have set out to retrace the steps
that led to the groundbreaking first human flight.
The Montgolfier brothers' first experiments took place here,
in the winter of 1782.
Etienne spent his days
running the family's papermaking business.
So when the brothers began building
the world's first hot air balloons,
their first creations were made out of paper.
In the village of Annonay,
the appearance of these mysterious objects in the sky
sparked talk of witchcraft.
To dispel such fears,
the brothers decided to stage a spectacular demonstration.
The first public flight of an unmanned hot air balloon
took place in a field near the village square.
It's a flight that is commemorated each year
by some of today's townspeople--
among them, many Montgolfier descendants.
The date was June 4, 1783.
Unlike this synthetic reproduction,
that first balloon was made of cotton
lined with paper.
It was a simple machine with no gondola.
But at 35 feet in diameter,
it was much larger than any of their previous balloons.
With a huge crowd in attendance,
the Montgolfiers lit a straw fire
and slid the firebox under the balloon.
When it was fully inflated,
the two brothers released the ropes
and the balloon rose into the air.
NARRATOR: The Montgolfier's balloon soared to an altitude of 6,000 feet
in a mere ten minutes
and drifted for nearly two miles.
The audience watched in awe,
amazed that these two men had made something that could fly.
News of the incredible flight quickly reached Paris,
catching the attention
of one of the most renowned thinkers of the day,
Benjamin Franklin, who was stationed there
and charged with conducting peace talks with the British.
The French revered Franklin for his experiments with electricity
and other natural phenomena.
He in turn was fascinated
by recent European discoveries in physics and chemistry,
and he took great interest
in the astonishing new technology of balloon flight.
He was a scientific celebrity in Paris.
Franklin was very excited about the experiment
because the balloon was impossible to avoid.
It's this large object that floats.
It caught everybody's attention, as did it Franklin's.
NARRATOR: The French scientific community
was equally excited by news of the flight,
including a close friend of Franklin's, Jacques Charles.
A gifted experimentalist,
Charles decided to duplicate the flight
by making his own balloon.
He was such a great sort of scientific showman.
Even Franklin, who came to watch his demonstrations,
said that when it came to Jacques Charles,
nature could not say no to him.
NARRATOR: But in a providential twist of fate,
Charles didn't get the whole story behind the Annonay flight.
Apparently, no one had told him
that fire had played a key role in the balloon's ascent.
So he assumed that the Montgolfiers
had filled their balloon
with the only known lightweight gas: hydrogen.
Thinking he was merely duplicating
the Montgolfier breakthrough,
Charles set out to make the world's first hydrogen balloon.
He calculated that he required
over 1,000 cubic feet of hydrogen,
a huge quantity for the time.
To produce it,
he placed 1,000 pounds of iron shavings in a closed container,
then added 500 pounds of deadly sulfuric acid,
also known as oil of vitriol.
The energetic reaction caused the iron atoms
to combine with the sulfur and oxygen in the acid,
creating a residue of iron sulfate
and liberating lightweight hydrogen atoms--
a potential fire risk.
CROUCH: It certainly was dangerous to produce hydrogen.
The thing steamed and bubbled, you could hear it making noises,
and it got hugely hot, and that's a problem
because you're generating hydrogen.
NARRATOR: Most of what we know about Charles' experiments
comes from letters written by Benjamin Franklin
to British naturalist Sir Joseph Banks.
And here we have in the first part...
NARRATOR: Preserved at the Royal Society of London,
one offers a vivid glimpse of Charles's first balloon flight.
FRANKLIN (dramatized): "And presently, the globe was seen to rise.
"A little rain had wet it so that it shone
"and made an agreeable appearance.
"It diminished in apparent magnitude as it rose,
"till it enter'd the clouds,
"when it seem'd to me scarce bigger than an orange.
"I thought it my duty, sir,
to send an early account of this extraordinary fact."
CROUCH: Franklin wants to make sure
that, again, his English colleagues,
who have never seen anything like this,
get a notion of what it looked like
and felt like and even sounded like.
NARRATOR: The balloon traveled more than 15 miles,
much farther than the Montgolfiers' hot air balloon,
before landing in the village of Gonesse,
where it caused a panic among terrified peasants.
CROUCH: When a balloon is on the ground, it's not just laying there.
The hydrogen inside is moving around
and the balloon's kind of moving,
and it had fallen down in the middle
of a group of peasants who were frightened by it.
So they attacked it with scythes and flails,
and once they destroyed it,
they tied it to the tail of a horse
and pulled it in triumph through the streets of Gonesse.
So the world's first hydrogen balloon came to a sad, sad end.
NARRATOR: While Charles conducted his experiments,
the Montgolfiers were becoming increasingly famous.
Fascinated by accounts of the first flight in Annonay,
King Louis XVI had invited the Montgolfiers to his court.
MI GYUNG KIM: The king was fascinated
by the possibility of flight in the air,
so he really wanted to see the invention.
NARRATOR: For Etienne Montgolfier,
the king's curiosity represented a vital opportunity.
So the next thing that's going to happen,
you know, you've flown a small balloon in Annonay,
now you've flown a small gas balloon in Paris.
Obviously, the next thing to do is to fly living creatures.
NARRATOR: But building a hot air balloon to carry a person
was a daunting challenge.
Their first balloon had only enough buoyancy
to carry its own weight.
Yet based on that early experiment,
the Montgolfier brothers
calculated the dimensions of an immense craft
capable of carrying two passengers aloft.
But exactly how they built that machine
has been lost to history.
So the team-- Guillaume de Montgolfier
along with historian Jean-Claude Ragaru
and experienced balloon maker Mercedes Taravillo--
will attempt to rediscover the past
by building a replica.
They have very little to go on, aside from the clues
contained in a cache of recently rediscovered letters
found in a tower at the Chateaux de Brogieux,
where the brothers conducted many of their early experiments.
There also exist many 18th century engravings
based on eyewitness accounts,
and fragments of Joseph Montgolfier's notebooks.
(translated): We would like to find some sketches, if possible.
That would be wonderful!
NARRATOR: The notebooks contain Joseph's calculations.
A gifted, self-taught mathematician,
he derived the relationship
between the volume of the balloon envelope
and the amount of weight it could lift,
taking into account air temperature
and other variables.
These centuries-old notes
reveal the impressive size of the balloon,
but no blueprint or remnants of the original craft
Fortunately, Jean-Claude Ragaru
knows of a drawing by Joseph Montgolfier
which gives a rough idea of the shape of the original.
(translated): Here we have an extremely oversimplified drawing
which resembles the hot air balloon we're going to make.
In effect, if you make this balloon here,
you won't have any problems.
NARRATOR: The balloon that Etienne
and Joseph Montgolfier set out to make
was comprised of three simple volumes.
The top of the balloon resembled a cone,
the middle of the balloon a cylinder,
and its base a truncated cone.
(translated): Here you have the calculations
where they evaluated the force necessary
to make a balloon rise.
NARRATOR: One of Joseph's letters gives the team
the last piece of information they need.
He had determined by experimentation
that a volume of 35 cubic feet of air
heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit
with surrounding air at 60 degrees
could lift 10.5 ounces.
Based on his assumptions
about the weight of the balloon and its passengers,
Joseph calculated that it would have to be
almost 75 feet high and 50 feet in diameter.
The team sets out to recreate this huge machine
which has nearly the volume of an Olympic swimming pool.
But how to build it?
Written accounts say that the Montgolfier balloons
were constructed in two layers: cotton fabric and paper,
the material most readily available
at the family paper factory.
But nothing is known
of the weight or quality of the paper they used.
To find out more, the team visits
one of two French paper factories
still operating in the 18th century fashion.
(translated): What are your specific needs
for the construction of the balloon?
(translated): To start with,
it mustn't be too heavy.
In addition, it must be extremely sturdy,
as little porous as possible, and very light.
NARRATOR: The strength and weight of paper varies tremendously
depending on the manufacturing method.
At the time of Etienne and Joseph,
people would bring cast-off cotton, linen, and hemp
to the paper mill.
(translated): Rag pickers picked old rags, sheets, and ropes.
Papermaking was one of the first recycling industries.
NARRATOR: These pieces of fabric are cut into small strips
and placed in a vat to ferment and break down.
Then the stamping hammers go to work.
Gradually, the rags disintegrate,
creating a watery slurry full of tiny fibers.
The longer the pounding and refining time,
the shorter and more delicate the paper fibers.
The consistency of the slurry
determines the weight of the paper.
Scooping the mixture onto a framed filter
sets the shape and thickness.
The sheets are piled one-by-one,
separated by pieces of fabric to prevent them from sticking.
Once the stack reaches a pre-determined height
based on the type of paper,
it goes through a mechanical press,
which squeezes out excess water.
Afterwards, the sheaves are separated
and brought to the drying room.
Finally, a process called sizing
determines the finish of the paper.
(translated): The 180 grams we have here gives the paper flexibility.
And we also have 120 grams, which is a bit thinner.
There's not much difference between the two,
and this thicker one
would give us a bit of a safety margin.
NARRATOR: Following the advice of the workers at the mill,
the team decides to use a paper
that weighs 180 grams per square meter.
NARRATOR: With her research complete and the paper selected,
Mercedes begins construction.
Though she has made more than 100 hot air balloons,
the 18th century paper and fabric construction technique
is completely unknown territory.
So she builds a one-tenth scale model
to help her understand how best to shape
the 24 identical pieces, called gores,
that must all fit together.
(translated): A nice-sized balloon
with a capacity of 77,500 cubic feet.
That's a big baby!
And it's got an enormous amount of weight.
The final balloon will be 800 kilograms.
NARRATOR: Tom Crouch, a curator with the National Air and Space Museum,
has flown from Washington, D.C.
to lend a hand with the construction.
To duplicate the balloon designed by Josef Montgolfier,
they begin with long strips of lightweight cotton
as a foundation.
Then they use an 18th century glue recipe
made with crushed fish scales.
It's expensive, smelly, and makes it a messy job
to stick 2,500 paper strips to the cotton sheets.
CROUCH: This is an honor.
NARRATOR: So little is known
about the construction of the original balloon,
they have no idea if the material they are creating
will be either too heavy or too flimsy.
The work proceeds quickly.
Volunteers take turns gluing more than 100 pieces of paper
to each piece of fabric.
CROUCH: The main difficulties
are getting the paper fixed to the fabric.
It will be really interesting
to see what it's like when it's dry.
NARRATOR: But the next morning,
the whole project has come unglued.
Mercedes: Oh boy.
(translated): Okay, well then, that didn't work.
(translated): It didn't stick.
NARRATOR: It's a major setback.
The paper does not stick to the fabric at all.
(translated): This throws into question our ideas about making these strips.
Back to the drawing board!
NARRATOR: The team decides to start all over,
this time using a modern wallpaper glue.
MAN (translated): Overall, it sticks, so that's a good sign.
That paper is going to be extremely heavy,
but it'll do the job.
It's airtight, and so if we put air inside,
it'll stay there,
and if we heat the air, it'll rise.
CROUCH: It is finished.
One section of the balloon is finished.
23 more to go.
Vingt-trois to go, oui.
It's a good beginning.
NARRATOR: But in September 1783,
the Montgolfiers are dealing with their own setback.
King Louis decides that allowing a person to fly
is just too risky.
MI GYUNG KIM: As much as Louis XVI wanted to see the balloon go up,
he wanted to be seen as a kind, gentle kind of king,
so he didn't want anybody to die.
NARRATOR: But Etienne hits upon an ingenious compromise.
He will fly animals instead of humans.
On the morning of September 19,
in the gardens of the Chââteau de Versailles,
he provides a wicker cage
carrying a sheep, a rooster and a duck,
which is then tied to the huge balloon.
(translated): The experiment was comparable
to the one led by the Americans with a monkey
and the Russians with a dog
when they explored unknown universes.
In fact, these animals were the first air travelers.
NARRATOR: Even those early air passengers had to fight for legroom.
But there was a very real fear that an animal
might not survive the ascent.
This would be a voyage to a truly unknown realm,
possibly higher than birds fly.
No one knew for sure if it would be possible even to breathe.
CROUCH: They knew that if you climbed to the top of the mountain,
there was still air to breathe, but they weren't sure that
if you get a few hundred feet above the surface of the earth,
there would still be air to breathe up there.
NARRATOR: Roland de Montgolfier, a descendant,
owns a replica of the Versailles balloon.
MAN (translated): It's incredible.
It was unhoped for,
finding ourselves in a setting like this,
flying a balloon like this.
(translated): I try to imagine myself in the context,
in the shoes of the people back then.
And, in fact, they must have thought, "It's magic,"
because you can't see how it works.
"It must be magic.
How can it rise into the air?"
NARRATOR: Before the balloon takes off,
the King asks Etienne to explain
what's behind the force that drives the balloon.
Still convinced that burning materials
creates Montgolfier Gas, and that the thicker the smoke,
the higher the concentration of this mystery gas,
Etienne adds all sorts of strange things to his fire,
including wool, meat, and even old shoes.
In just a few minutes, the balloon inflates,
and on the cue of a cannon burst, leaves the ground.
The balloon that flies before the king
has been financed by the court
and accordingly decorated in ways to flatter its patron.
The king, delighted,
congratulates Etienne Montgolfier.
LOUIS XVI (dramatized): "I am pleased to be seeing an experiment
that will find echo in the glory of my reign."
NARRATOR: After rising to about 1,500 feet
and remaining aloft for eight minutes,
the Montgolfiers' balloon slowly descends
over a nearby wooded area.
The gondola strikes a pile of wood and frees the animals,
which are soon found by several who'd been chasing the balloon.
One of those on the scene
is 26 year-old amateur scientist Pilââtre de Rozier,
who will soon figure in the Montgolfiers' next attempt.
The Versailles flight sets off a new craze:
Little toy balloons fill the skies of Paris.
Hawkers sell them on every street corner.
Everyone dreams of inventing new sky vessels.
Surely, it's only a matter of time
before a human will climb into a balloon
and take to the sky.
The Montgolfiers are determined that that first flight
will be their triumph.
De Rozier, who had chased the earlier flight,
begs to take the place of the barnyard animals
in hopes of earning the glory
of being the first person to fly.
But for such a potentially momentous flight,
the Montgolfiers know that
they will need a truly spectacular balloon,
lavishly decorated in honor of their patron, King Louis.
Etienne Montgolfier collaborates with Jean-Baptiste Réveillon,
the owner of the royal wallpaper factory.
For Mercedes' team,
the task of decoration raises its own questions.
How were those complex designs originally made?
How will they recreate the colors used by Réveillon?
The royal azure blue and the ochre and gold shades?
To find out, they visit a paper manufacturer
in the north of France,
where the 18th century techniques are still practiced.
(translated): To be able to find the true colors...
Well, we have this whole series of engravings
that was done at the time of the flight,
but each engraving has a different shade of blue,
so we're going to have to base our decision
on our knowledge of pigments used at the time.
NARRATOR: According to restorer and decorator Jean-Baptiste Martin,
the shade of blue used by Etienne
must have been a combination of cobalt and indigo
mixed with animal glue and a bit of water
to bind the pigments.
(translated): What about the gold shades?
Are they really gold-based?
NARRATOR: These actual Réveillon wallpaper samples from the time
reveal some of the techniques used to create the color gold.
(translated): Here you can see it very well.
Everything that was supposed to be gold, the color gold,
was actually done with shades of ochre
that look like gold.
We're going to use the exact same technique
for the balloon.
That is, we'll work with yellow shades of ochre
and perhaps just do the highlights with real gold
to give it a sparkle.
NARRATOR: By the fall of 1783,
the Montgolfiers' balloon has now been outfitted
with twin baskets for the pilots.
They stand opposite one another and shovel hay into a firebox
suspended beneath the neck of the balloon.
With the balloon securely tethered to the ground
in the Réveillon gardens,
Etienne practices controlling it by feeding the fire.
Throughout October 1783, the pilot, Pilââtre de Rozier,
carries out tethered lift-off and landing tests
At last, they feel ready to untie the ropes and fly.
But King Louis, who now accepts
that it should be possible to survive the ascent,
remains reluctant to put a human life at risk.
CROUCH: Of course, that first flight
when human beings go into the air
on November 21, 1783, was going to be chancy.
No one had ever built a balloon as large as that one.
It was 70 feet tall.
Just a huge thing.
NARRATOR: Then a courtier, the Marquis d'Arlandes,
asks the king to let him join De Rozier
and attempt a manned flight,
but at some distance from Versailles
so that the king and queen will be protected from criticism
if something goes amiss.
Finally reassured, Louis relents.
In Annonay, the reconstruction is moving forward.
The first two panels are finished
and the design work has begun.
The team, overseen by the decorator Jean-Baptiste,
is attempting to reproduce the style
of 18th-century wallpaper printers.
And in another part of the workshop,
Mercedes and several volunteers
have started sewing the first two panels by hand,
Inch by inch,
they stitch the tough canvas and paper panels together
in a way that will prevent leaks.
(translated): It's just like cardboard.
(translated): I feel like I'm sewing a piece of leather.
That's how thick and hard it is.
NARRATOR: The work is exceedingly difficult.
After four hours,
the team has only completed 12 feet
of the first two 100-foot panels.
At this rate,
it will take over six weeks of full time work to finish.
(translated): It's a painstaking job.
Another needle just broke!
How do you expect us to make progress?
NARRATOR: But then a new development upends all their hard work.
Historian Jean-Claude Ragaru has just found,
through a private collector, a previously unknown letter.
In it, the author writes that
just five days before the manned flight,
the paper and cotton balloon
was severely damaged by a terrible storm.
Rather than postpone the event,
the Réveillon workers hastily rebuild the balloon,
but without the paper layer.
(translated): The author of the letter
talks about his experience at Versailles.
"To carry this out, I used cotton canvas,
which I had painted on both sides," etc., etc.
NARRATOR: According to the letter,
Etienne gave up on paper as a component in the balloon.
GUILLAUME (translated): Perhaps we should do the same
and switch to some other material?
We need to find a solution
that's sturdier and easier to make.
NARRATOR: In a way, it's a bit of good luck.
Mercedes had worried about the combined weight
of the paper and fabric.
So like Etienne more than 200 years before,
the team decides to abandon the idea
of making panels from paper and canvas.
They start over,
this time using a modern material for added safety.
Now they begin decorating the balloon
in the style of Réveillon.
Engravings help Jean-Baptiste
to figure out the position of the motifs on the balloon.
King Louis's double "L," the signs of the zodiac,
the fleurs-de-lis, and the royal eagles
will be copied onto the new panels.
The new balloon takes more than two long winter months to paint.
Mercedes Taravillo and the team finish the decoration.
And this time, Mercedes has decided
to use her sewing machine to assemble the new panels.
TARAVILLO (translated): It was very difficult and very long.
The Montgolfier brothers
had the Réveillon personnel at their disposal.
I don't have that kind of luck.
I don't have a hundred people who will come help me out
for a project like this.
Considering this, it would take years to finish it.
NARRATOR: In the end, it has taken five months to make the balloon.
The balloon is finally finished.
After two and a half months
of waiting for safe weather conditions,
the day has finally come to restage the first human flight.
The balloon and all of its equipment
are now at the historic Chateau de Brogieux,
where the first tentative experiments
with small paper balloons took place.
After unpacking their huge creation,
the team uses a crane to lift the 70 foot envelope
to prepare for its inflation.
CROUCH: You're seeing something
that hasn't happened in a very long time.
Like this, anyway.
NARRATOR: In 1783, the brothers used two large mooring posts
to position the balloon upright.
Then as now, the Montgolfiers lit the fire
to cause the huge envelope to inflate.
But in today's test,
the team forgoes the exotic and smelly combustibles
that the Montgolfiers thought were a key ingredient
in the lifting gas.
RAGARU (translated): It happened more or less just like this.
The combustible was hay.
And then they added pieces of rotten meat
and a little bit of sheep's wool.
But after a few days, they just preferred using dry straw
because, well, it smelled better and it was just as efficient.
NARRATOR: After less than half an hour,
the balloon is filling and straining at its tethers.
Now the team makes a calculated decision.
Flying with an open fire was perilous at the time,
and unacceptable today.
So they replace the straw-burning brazier
with a modern gas burner.
TARAVILLO (translated): We opted for the burner
because the straw would not have been enough,
especially if you want to mount it.
It's a safety issue
NARRATOR: The final step is to release the balloon from the crane
so that only the tethers prevent it from taking off.
On the morning of November 21, 1783
at the Chateau de la Muette, outside of Paris,
a massive crowd has assembled.
Benjamin Franklin is also on hand.
He watches anxiously as Pilââtre de Rozier
and his co-pilot, the Marquis d'Arlandes,
climb on board.
In Annonay, the balloon is finally inflated
and free to lift off.
NARRATOR: Mercedes and her copilot climb into the gondola
to test the balloon while still safely tethered to the ground.
De Rozier and d'Arlandes stoke their fire.
Slowly, the balloon climbs and the enthralled spectators,
including Franklin, watch with astonishment and worry.
FRANKLIN (dramatized): "When it went over our heads,
"we could see the fire, which was very considerable.
"I was then in great pain for the men,
thinking them in danger of being thrown out or burnt."
NARRATOR: He has reason to be concerned.
After a few minutes in the air,
small flames lick at the lower border of the balloon,
threatening to set it completely on fire.
They had sponges on long sticks so that they,
looking through little square openings in front of them,
they could kind of dab burning spots inside the balloon out.
NARRATOR: The two men are 3,000 feet in the air,
with only a fragile balloon and an open, straw-fed fire
to keep them aloft.
Soon they begin to fear for their lives.
They have plenty of fuel left,
but after about 25 minutes and five miles,
they decide they've had enough and land.
The short duration of the flight doesn't matter to the crowd,
for whom it all seems miraculous.
For today's team,
the time has come at last to take to the sky.
Just like Pilââtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes,
Mercedes and André, her pilot,
are finally ready to release their balloon.
(translated): We're really starting to want to fly this thing.
All the stress is going away, all the stress is dissipating.
It's just great.
CROUCH: It's emotional just to see it
here in this field,
something that looks like the first balloon
to carry human beings aloft.
You know, It's a real thrill, for heaven sakes!
NARRATOR: But at the last minute, French aviation authorities
refuse to give permission for the balloon to fly untethered.
It's a disappointment.
But as the balloon strains against its bonds,
there's no doubt that it can fly.
On the evening of November 21,
Benjamin Franklin signs his eyewitness report
of the first human flight, helping to assure
the Montgolfier brothers' place in history.
But Jacques Charles,
whose first hydrogen balloon had flown so well,
remains intent on pursuing his own path into the sky.
The Montgolfiers' balloon is far from ideal.
It's too large and difficult to control,
since so much depends on maintaining the fire.
With little knowledge of the Montgolfiers' craft,
Charles builds a more compact balloon
that can fly both higher and farther.
BEN FRANKLIN (dramatized): "It is a globe of 26 feet in diameter.
"The gores that compose it are red and white silk
so that it makes a beautiful appearance."
NARRATOR: Xavier Waymel is a gas balloon enthusiast.
Inspired by Charles' 18th-century craft,
he has built his own version.
WAYMEL (translated): In terms of size,
the two balloons are rather similar.
This one has a 35-foot diameter and Charles' was around 30 feet.
So we're looking at about the same dimensions.
NARRATOR: In 1783, Charles builds a very impressive machine.
He chooses the latest material:
a very lightweight fabric coated with rubber,
which has been only recently been imported from the Americas.
WAYMEL (translated): It was one of the first times that rubber was used.
They needed something
that was airtight and waterproof and flexible.
NARRATOR: Charles also designs a spring-operated valve
to release gas in order to descend.
WAYMEL (translated): It opens like this.
Same thing on the other side.
Opening the valve allows a bit of gas to escape
and therefore makes the balloon a little heavier.
And that's how the balloon descends.
NARRATOR: Lastly, Charles encloses the balloon in a net,
which distributes the weight of the gondola
around the entire globe,
another feature of modern balloons.
On a Monday, December 1, 1783 in the Tuileries Gardens,
a massive throng gathers,
pushing and shoving and scaling walls to witness the lift off.
CROUCH: The crowd at the first manned Montgolfier flight
had been significant,
but the crowd for Jacques Charles' first flight was huge.
No one expected it.
Some of the figures suggest that
as many as half of the people of Paris
had gathered around the edge of the Tuileries
to witness this flight.
NARRATOR: Franklin too is there, but rather than join the throng,
he prefers to stay in the comfort of his carriage.
From this viewpoint,
he sees Charles and his co-pilot take off.
FRANKLIN (dramatized): "All eyes were gratified with seeing it rise
"majestically from among the trees,
"and ascend gradually above the buildings,
"a most beautiful spectacle!
"When it was about 200 feet high,
"the brave adventurers held out
"and wav'd a little white pennant,
"on both sides their car, to salute the spectators,
who return'd loud claps of applause."
KIM: One thing that keeps coming through
in the newspaper accounts and in personal accounts,
in diaries and so on,
is a single adjective that says "majestic."
NARRATOR: In 1783, when Charles wants to go higher,
he dumps ballast, just like Xavier Waymel does today.
WAYMEL (translated): Dump ballast?
That means that I take the shovel
and throw a small quantity of sand overboard,
sprinkling it like this, or dumping it.
And that is enough to rise a few feet.
NARRATOR: To descend, Charles and Xavier release gas
from the balloon's envelope.
(translated): To descend, I pull on this rope, which activates the valve,
the little wood valve up at the top
that looks like a small window.
It's a system that hasn't changed
since the end of the 18th century.
It's still the same system.
NARRATOR: Charles' first flight leaps past the Montgolfiers' achievement.
He flies a distance of about 25 miles over two hours,
five times farther and longer
than the flight of Pilââtre de Rozier and Marquis d'Arlandes.
The balloon lands in the countryside north of Paris.
Charles' passenger gets off just after the sun sets.
Now alone as dusk falls, Charles immediately takes off again,
rising so high that he sees over the horizon,
bringing the sun back into view.
RAGARU (translated): When he left the ground, it was dusk
and the sun was still sinking on the horizon.
Of course, at 10,000 feet of altitude,
he saw the sun once again,
and since he stayed in the air for half an hour,
he saw it set again.
NARRATOR: He is the first person in history
to see the sun set twice in the same day.
In just 19 months,
between June 1783 and January 1785,
the world sees six historic flights.
Humanity has at last conquered the sky.
After the manned flights of de Rozier and Charles,
a ballooning craze seizes all of Europe.
All sorts of inventors join in the adventure.
Many of their designs are breathtakingly innovative,
Soon the Montgolfier brothers run out of money,
and Etienne is forced to return home
to take up the family business.
Two other intrepid adventurers, however,
are eager to pursue the brother's dream.
In Dover, England, a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Blanchard,
constructs a hydrogen balloon complete with oars and a rudder.
His copilot is John Jeffries,
a Boston-born doctor and surgeon.
Their plan is to fly across the English Channel.
The channel is at least 22 miles wide,
and weather conditions are rarely optimal.
Even today, making such a crossing in a balloon
requires skill and luck,
something that Tom Crouch and balloonist Xavier Waymel
are about to discover firsthand
as they attempt to cross the channel themselves.
WAYMEL (translated): It's a complicated flight to accomplish.
For example, we've waited for over one month
for a good weather window,
which during this season is not so surprising.
Back at the time,
they themselves had to wait for weeks.
They almost lost faith before having good weather conditions
and succeeding in taking off.
CROUCH: Flying that distance over open water,
it's a daunting thing to do.
It's something I really look forward to,
having written about this flight
over so many years of my own life.
To actually be able to recreate that flight
just sends chills up and down your spine.
NARRATOR: On the morning of January 7, 1785,
the sky is clear and calm.
Just over a year after the first human flight,
Blanchard and Jeffries lift off.
Their balloon moves slowly towards the sea.
CROUCH: It's wonderful.
We're right where Blanchard and Jeffries were.
When you look back, you can see Dover,
all the little towns behind it.
NARRATOR: Their flight is not exactly restful.
They try to navigate with the rudder,
which doesn't work,
and at times, they dip perilously close to the water.
After a two-hour flight,
they reach the French coastline at the whim of the winds.
But a thick forest that appears below
prevents them from landing.
CROUCH: They didn't want to come down into the trees,
and Jeffries said, "We were very close to the tree tops.
"Fearing that the basket would be hit violently,
"I felt the need to throw something out
"in order to change our course.
"Recalling that since Dover
"we had not satisfied any call of nature,
"I suggested to Mr. Blanchard
"to take this opportunity to urinate.
"He heartily approved the idea.
"I believe in good faith
"that we were able to produce five to six pounds of urine.
We made a perfect landing beyond the trees."
NARRATOR: But for Xavier and Tom, their flight soon becomes
even more fraught than that of their predecessors.
The wind suddenly changes direction
and blows them away from Calais and the French coast.
After six long hours,
three times longer than it took Blanchard and Jeffries,
Xavier and Tom finally also reach dry land--
but in Belgium.
WEYMAR (translated): It went fine, but it was a tough ride.
At one point in time,
I asked myself how long we were going to spend over the sea.
We were scared.
NARRATOR: More than 200 years after the first flight across the channel,
balloons still remain at the mercy of the elements.
To Jean Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries and us.
They were great balloonists.
They were indeed.
As are you.
NARRATOR: After the flight of Blanchard and Jeffries,
all of the essential features of modern ballooning technology
had been developed.
It is during this astonishing two-year burst
of innovation and creativity more than two centuries ago
that the first aeronauts
dare to climb aboard these flimsy craft
to make history in the sky.
by Media Access Group at WGBH access.wgbh.org
This NOVA program is available on DVD.
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