Cool-Ray Hot Air Balloon Team

about the sport of hot-air ballooning


A short History of Hot-Air Ballooning

The first recorded instance of hot-air balloon capable of carrying humans was built by the brothers Josef and Etienne Montgolfier in Annonay, France in 1783. These brothers were from a family of paper manufacturers who had noticed the ash rising in fires of the paper plant furnaces. The brothers were intrigued by this and after many small experiments the first 'official' flight of a hot-air balloon took place on the 19th of September, 1783. The Montgolfier brothers successfully launched a balloon made from paper and cloth, which had been inflated by burning a combination of straw, chopped wool and dried horse manure. This balloon carried the first passengers: a sheep, rooster and duck. It climbed to a height of about 6,000 feet and traveled more than one mile.
      After experimenting some more the brothers were convinced they had successfully shown that humans would be safe to fly. So on the 21st of November, 1783. Pilâtre de Rozier, a young physicist, and the Marquis Francois d'Arlandes, a nobleman, had the honor of the being the first humans to fly in a hot-air balloon. Following their success the Montgolfier brothers launched other flights into the french countryside.

Now the first hot air balloons were basically cloth bags (sometimes lined with paper) with a smoky fire built on a grill attached to the bottom. They had a tendency to catch fire and be destroyed upon landing. If the balloon was not destroyed upon landing many times the farmers, who's fields they would land in, would think that the large smoke billowing bag was in fact a demon, and would run into the fields with pitchforks and sickles to stab the 'demon' to death. To curb this (since it was expensive) the early pilots of these balloon began to carry Champaign Wine, since it was considered the 'King's Drink'. They would share the beverage with the locals as a peace offering, hopefully saving their balloon and making new friends. This tradition even survives to modern times and many balloon crews celebrate a passengers first flight with champaign or sparkling grape juice.

Hot- Air Ballooning in Modern Times

Modern day hot-air ballooning began in october of 1960 when the first
hot air balloon flight with a controlled "burner" ( using petroleum as a fuel source) took place. Until that time balloons had been limited to gas, which was hard to find and expensive, since the practice of flying Montgolfier-style hot-air balloons was not only dangerous but impractical and unpredictable. Ed Yost was the pilot on this historic occasion and the manufactures of the balloon system he flew was a new company at the time called Raven Industries. Today Raven industries is a large manufacture aeronautical products; and until recently, one of it's divisions - Aerostar - was the worlds largest, and best known producer of hot-air balloons. Our balloon Cool-Ray is in fact an Aerostar balloon and Mike has been selling Aerostar balloons for many years now. Unfortunately Aerostar has announced plans to end their production of balloons during the first half of 2007.

Hot-air ballooning has undergone a complete renaissance since those early flights in 1960 by Ed Yost, and modern balloons are safe, fully functional and FAA certified aircraft. Today there are well over 5,000 balloon pilots in the U.S. alone, and the sport of ballooning has become a enthusiast hobby for many around the world. There are many races involving hundreds of hot air balloons from across the country, even here in Alabama (the Cool-Ray hot air balloon team is from Decatur, Alabama) there are many small and large races. North Alabama is actually a very popular places for hot-air ballooning boasting many local pilots in and around the Huntsville-Decatur. There are several races in Alabama each year, the foremost of which is the Alabama Jubilee. The 'Jubilee' as it is known almost pilots and crew is an annual event (for the past 25 years, at least) and draws large crowds to watch the 60+ balloons take to the sky on memorial day weekend right here in Decatur.