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The Weird Aryan History Series

Lesson #45: First To Fly, First To Die (1785)

Francois Pilatre de Rozier (baptized 30 March 1754 in Metz, died 15 June 1785 in Wimereux/Pas-de-Calais) was a French chemistry and physics teacher, and one of the first pioneers of aviation. He was one of the first two men ever to leave the earth in a flying machine, and he was the first man to be killed in an aviation accident.

The son of an innkeeper, De Rozier botanized in the company of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, in the democratic companionship that early science fostered. His interests in the chemistry of drugs had been awakened in the military hospital of Metz, an important garrison town on the border of France. He made his way to Paris, then taught physics and chemistry at Reims, which brought him to the attention of the king's brother, Monsieur, the Comte d'Artois, who put him in charge of his cabinet of natural history and made him a valet de chambre to Madame, which brought him his ennobled name, Pilatre de Rozier. Soon, however, he opened his own museum in the Marais quarter of Paris, researched the new field of gases and invented a respirator.

In 1782 Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, two brothers from Annonay, France, constructed an air balloon that was lifted by lighting a cauldron of paper beneath it, and therefore heating and rarifying the air it contained. They had conceived this idea in one of those strange creative flashes that seem to pepper the history of the White race. By watching a small paper bag which had fallen into the fire fill with hot air, rise, and float in the air over the flames, the Montgolfiers had suddenly wondered if such a bag could be made large enough to carry a human being into the sky. Amazingly, in all the thousands of years man had been using fire as an essential tool, no one else had ever realized that smoke and heat go UP and that this might be a powerful enough force to take a man up as well. One supposed that certain ideas simply have their time.

On 4th June, 1783, this hot air balloon reached a height of about 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) flying as a captive balloon, i.e. tethered to a long cable so the Montgolfiers could bring it back down. It carried aloft a rooster, a dog, and a cat, in separate wicker baskets, rather like the first space shots carried dogs and monkeys. De Rozier was present. That September the Montgolfiers sent aloft from the front courtyard of Versailles, the first un-tethered balloon, containing a sheep, a cockerel and a duck, who made a flight of several miles before coming safely to earth.

It was proposed that a gondola be built under the balloon to carry a man, and there arose some debate as to who should be the first human being carried into the air by a manmade device. Many scientists of the day thought that the air even a few thousand feet up was too thin to sustain life or else was poisonous. King Louis XVI proposed sending a condemned criminal aloft, with the promise of pardon if he survived.

However, Pilatre de Rozier stepped forward and objected, saying that the honor of being the first man to fly should not be given to a criminal. De Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes became the first people to take part in a manned balloon flight. On 21 November 1783 the two of them made the first manned free flight in history. During the 25-minute flight using a Montgolfier hot air balloon heated by burning straw and coal, they traveled 12 kilometers from the chateau of La Muette to the Butte aux Cailles in the outskirts of Paris, attaining an altitude of 3,000 feet. On flying over the river Seine, they became the first to notice something that all pilots would later be taught—that there is a downdraft over water.

They both became very famous and were received at court. Benjamin Franklin observed their flight, and on being asked "But what good is it?" replied, "What good is a new-born baby?"

One obvious problem with the Montgolfier design was that these balloons were almost impossible to control, not only impossible to steer, but to control the ascent and descent. Professor Charles of the Paris Academy of Sciences made a successful hydrogen balloon, which he sent up unmanned and which was slashed to pieces by peasants with pitchforks and reaping hooks when it landed in a field. (They thought it was the Devil.) Hydrogen did not require the constant feeding of wood or other flammables into the burner.

Pilatre de Rozier now decided to make his own balloon that contained both hot air and hydrogen. He placed a hydrogen balloon on top, which provided a steady lift, and a hot air balloon on the bottom, which could be heated and cooled by placing faggots of tarred, burning straw in a brazier and thus provide some control over the up-and-down capabilities of the aircraft. This actually wasn't a bad idea, except for the fact that hydrogen is highly explosive.

On 15th June, 1785, Rozier and a friend, Pierre Romain, decided to fly from Boulogne to England. At an altitude of about 2,950 feet (900 m) the hydrogen, expanded by the hot air, exploded and the two men were fell to their death. Their horrified friends ran to the gondola; de Rozier was still barely alive and managed to gasp out a prayer as a priest recited the last rites before he expired. They were the first men to lose their lives in a manned flight.

The modern hybrid gas and hot air balloon is named the Rozier balloon after his pioneering design.