Friday, September 29, 2023

Postcards from France

Annonay - Les Freres Montgolfier

Last Wednesday (9/27) I rode about 20 miles north from Tain l'Hermitage on the Rhone, where we stay, mainly uphill to the town of Annonay in the Ardèche. This was the home of the aviation pioneer Montgolfier brothers and I specifically wanted to see their statue and the town square where on June 4th 1783 they first demonstrated their invention, the hot air balloon.

Interestingly, their balloon was not inflated as I had expected but had a fixed shape and was constructed of four linen sections with paper pasted inside to provide the form and make it airtight. The sections were joined together with 1,800 buttons and the exterior reinforced with a cord net.

The First Balloon

In order to heat the air for the balloon it was tethered over a smoldering fire and when eventually released it shot up to about 5000 feet and covered about 1.5 miles before the air inside cooled and it landed with little damage. Scientists and artists were on hand from the Paris Academies to document and illustrate the occasion.

The launch site today - Wednesday is market day!

Within 6 months the brothers had constructed a new much larger balloon with its own charcoal heat source and capable of carrying two passengers in a gallery around the bottom. Following tethered testing, on November 21st in its first free flight the brilliantly decorated balloon flew 5 miles over Paris at about 3000 feet. It had carried enough fuel to go four times this distance but when the pilots were obliged to use their jackets to quell flames from the burning fabric they decided they'd travelled far enough and landed after 25 minutes.

The Brilliantly decorated first free flight piloted balloon

After a coffee and "pain au chocolat" in a cafe overlooking the town square the ride back was relatively easy - a long downhill to the Rhone and a flat stretch along the ViaRhona bike path to Tain.

Allan Broadribb

P.S. There is a hot air balloon festival in Annonay held annually in June.

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