We take air travel for granted, but sending massive amounts of machinery hurtling into the air is still a risky endeavor. Sometimes, things go wrong and you find yourself on the business end of an emergency landing in the Hudson River.
The worst part is, you just never can tell when disaster is going to strike. Well, maybe sometimes you can...
On September 19, 1783, a sheep, a cockerel and a duck embarked on an untethered hot air balloon ride from the front courtyard of the Palace of Versailles. Incredibly, that's actual history and not the opening line of a joke.
The mastermind behind this animal-tastic adventure was Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier. Prior to sending a bunch of farm animals off to their inexplicably avoidable deaths in a hot air balloon (how he got them back down to Earth is anyone's guess), Monsieur Rozier was renowned for his research in flight technology.
Rare photo of Monsieur Rozier.
After his first foray into balloon flight resulted in zero animal deaths, Rozier concluded that there was no reason humans shouldn't be all up in hot air balloons also. With one unprecedented win under his belt already, he was able to convince King Louis XVI to allow him and a nobleman named Francois Laurent d'Arlandes to become the first human untethered hot air balloon pilots.
After several successful flights, Rozier figured that he was above the laws of physics and logic and decided to take a trip across the English Channel using what he dubbed as his "hybrid balloon." The balloon featured two compartments. One was heated by an open flame which was fueled by brandy, a fact historians have speculated was exactly as totally rad as it sounds.
Dad called it fuel for a reason.
However, Rozier decided to foolishly fill the other compartment with highly combustible hydrogen instead of the more reasonable choice, helium, just because that element wouldn't be discovered for another 50 years. Besides, who has time for determining an element's capacity for explosiveness when there are awesome hot air balloon flights to embark on?
Roughly 15 minutes into the English Channel flight, the flame and the hydrogen predictably found each other and joined forces to form a Voltron-like explosion. Surprisingly, the explosion wasn't fatal, but that 1,500-foot plummet to the Earth most certainly was.
Of course, the only lesson the world learned from the ordeal was that there had to be much more awesome ways to go down in one of these things. Like...
Throughout history, there have been women who have attempted to carry on their husbands' work after they've passed on. Not a problem if the husband was a day laborer or a prostitute or something. But in the case of Marie Blanchard, her husband was a balloon pilot back when balloons were still propelled by hydrogen and death wishes.
You think they just give out these babies?
Nevertheless, after Blanchard's husband died from a heart attack (followed by a fall from a hot air balloon, of course) in 1809, Marie continued his rich tradition of balloon demonstrations. Though inexperienced in balloon piloting, she made up for it with an even more astounding failure to understand anything at all about combustible gasses and what happens when you shoot off fireworks around them.
Don't even act like you don't want to keep reading now.
One night (yes, night), Marie took her balloon into the air and, figuring that piloting a flying death trap in the dark wasn't crazy enough, decided to launch fireworks from the balloon. Fireworks! Within minutes, Marie let one fly too close to the balloon and the flame ignited the hydrogen inside.
Wait 'til you land before celebrating.
After an undoubtedly flamboyant fall from the sky, Marie caught a break and landed on the roof of a building. But to the horror of the crowd below, she then slipped from the roof to the street below where her neck caught a far less lucky break. Marie not only earned the distinction of being the first female balloon pilot, but also the honor of being the first woman to die in one.
Would you fly in a plane designed by a man hellbent on convincing the world that flight science was a scam? Of course you would, because flying is awesome. If you don't believe us, look no further than the story of Henry Mignet (we recommend the linked site mostly for the far-out background music).
During WWI, he convinced a friend of his in the French Air Force to let him taxi a plane (the driving portion of a flight before takeoff). For most people, this would be enough. For Mignet, it was not. He decided to add a little bit of the ol' "let's gun this and see if we can fly it" to the end of his taxi maneuvering. Not surprisingly, he crashed. This was the moment he decided flight science is a scam.
"I'll believe it when I see a plane that I didn't just set on fire."
To alleviate this, he designed his own "aircraft," dubbed it The Sky Louse and released the design to the public.
Mignet's original "Sky Kill PainCopter" was deemed impractical.
According to people that have actually built them, the Louse was basically a coffin with a motor on the front constructed from spare wood, nails, glue and a motorcycle engine. (Look for a KISS version to be available sometime next year.) Interestingly, the Louse contains none of the conventional features of an airplane such as rudder pedals or engine cowls. It does, however, contain an extra (albeit unnecessary) set of wings behind the cockpit.
Upon its release, the numerous people that built and tried to fly them (as if you wouldn't have) found that if they sent the plane into a steep enough nose dive, the Louse would lock into that position and crash. As far as why more than one person had to conduct this experiment, we have no idea.