Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English Channel in a Balloon

Crossing of the English Channel
by Blanchard and Jeffries

On January 7, 1785, French inventor, aviation pioneer and balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English channel in a balloon flying from Dover Castle to Guînes for the first time.

Just two years before, the two brothers and business partners, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier changed history when they presented their hot air balloon for the first time to the public of Annonay, France [1]. Blanchard’s first successful flight in a hydrogen gas balloon took place in 1784, when he launched a gas balloon from the Champ de Mars, the large greenspace located near the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, his first flight went not as smooth as wished. A spectator was refused a place on board and suddenly slashed at the balloon’s mooring ropes and oars with his sword. The balloon was pushed by the wind across the Seine to Billancourt and back again, landing in the rue de Sèvres.

But the fascination of ballooning was not only limited to the Montgolfier brothers and Blanchard. A whole ‘balloonomania’ evolved after the first successful flights and the public interest increased dramatically and resulted in several artistic works like this poem by Peter Bell:

“There’s something in a flying Horse,
There’s something in a huge balloon:
But through the Clouds I’ll never float
Until I have a little Boat
Shaped like the crescent-moon.”

The balloonomania started to spread in France, but soon reached Great Britain as well. When Blanchard reached London in 1784, he took part in a flight with John Sheldon, but also intended to demonstrate his propulsion mechanism, which proved ineffective just another time. However, his balloon flights got better and spread the word around Europe. The American Dr John Jeffries got the chance to fly with Blanchard in 1784. They flew from the Rhedarium behind Green Street Mayfair, London to Ingress in Kent. Another flight with Jeffries took place on January 7, 1785. This time, he crossed the English Channel from Dover to Guînes in just a little more than two hours. By Louis XVI, Blanchard was awarded a pension for this achievement.

The now famous inventor started touring through Europe in order to demonstrate his balloons and achievements. In the following years, Blanchard experimented with parachutes and demonstrated that it was possible to jump safely from a hot air balloon just like the French André-Jacques Garnerin  [5] did in the late 18th century. In 1793, Blanchard conducted the first balloon flight in the Americas. He launched his balloon from the prison yard of Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and landed in Deptford, New Jersey. One of the flight’s witnesses that day was President George Washington, and the future presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were also present.

On March 7, 1809, Jean-Pierre Blanchard passed away while on flight with his balloon.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a lecture from the 1970s on the history of flight and ballooning by Paul Garber

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