The REAL “first hot air balloon”
In what year did the first flight of a hot air balloon occur?
Answer: C. It wasn’t the Montgolfier brothers. But it was 74 years earlier and, ahem… indoors. In early August of the year 1709, a Brazilian Jesuit priest, naturalist, and mathematician named Bartolmeu Lourenco de Gusmao gave a demonstration flight of a small envelope of heated air in Lisbon at the court of King Johan V of Portugal. As with its eventual descendants, the source of lift for the small bag was heat from a flame, and things were going quite well, until they realized that the royal draperies were going to join in the fun, too.
The first photographed supersonic flight didn’t occur until
Answer: D. At first one might have seen choice B and guessed that Yeager’s flight was so secret that they didn’t even take a picture. (Well, I don’t believe they did, actually, at least not while he was supersonic.) Then despite the fact that the question uses the word “until”, you might have seen choice C and figured that perhaps the Germans had used a high speed camera to film a test rocket or something. Nope. It’s even more devious than that. The first photographed supersonic flight wasn’t taken to commemorate an airplane, or a rocket. It was to record the flight of a bullet, and it was taken by none other than Ernst Mach himself, in 1887.
A great cross-country, but he’s out of fuel…
The greatest distance ever covered (either “straight line” or free) by a powered airplane (or for that matter, any sailplane) without benefit of a single drop of fuel was
- in 1981, across the English Channel
- in 1986, over the length of the Grand Canyon (about 165 nmi)
- in 1990, across the entire United States
- in 1992, from Vinon, France, to Fez, Morocco (about 747 nmi)
Answer: C. MacCready’s Solar Challenger first flew several miles in Arizona in the late 1970’s before its historic flight across the Channel in 1981. Actually, it didn’t just hop the 21 or so miles across the narrowest portion of the Channel from Dover to Calais, but instead flew about 163 miles from Corneille-en-Verin Airport north of Paris, to Manston Royal Air Force Base south of London. However, in 1990, an aircraft named Sunseeker completed a 2,523 mile trip from Desert Center CA to Spot, NC, and became the first airplane to cross the United States almost exclusively by solar power. (I said “almost” because it did use lift from thermals as much as possible.) At any rate, it was certainly the longest “fuel-less” flight ever attempted. It took the pilot, Eric Raymond, a bit ovr 125 hours to make the flight. Actually that’s flights, plural (21 of them). He left California on July 16, and due to things such as adverse weather, mechanical problems (and the need for an occasional charge) he and his 198-pound graphite fiber and epoxy airplane, which was powered by a 3 HP wheelchair motor driven by electricity from about 88 square feet of solar cells, didn’t arrive on the East coast until September 3rd. The average length of the intervals during which the motor was used was only five minutes, and these were mostly takeoffs and traveling from one thermal to the next. For those double-E majors out there, the PV array produced about 2.5 amps at 120 volts, and charge time for the batteries was about two and a half hours. The no-fuel flight over the Grand Canyon is total fiction, and the flight in choice D happens to be the current FAI “straight distance” record for any sailplane, set on April 17, 1992. (The longest glider flight ever, incidentally, occurred on December 12, 2002, and was a “free three-turnpoint” flight over western Argentina, of about 1630 statute miles.)