The Montgolfier brothers’ balloon. Like others in their day, they thought the smoke created the lift. (R. Bishop)

The Montgolfier brothers’ balloon. Like others in their day, they thought the smoke created the lift. (R. Bishop)

A model of Henri Giffard’s airship hangs in the London Science Museum. (London Science Museum)

A model of Henri Giffard’s airship hangs in the London Science Museum. (London Science Museum)

The German airship “Hindenburg” is seen flying over Manhattan Island, New York, USA, in the 1930s. (AP Photos)

The German airship “Hindenburg” is seen flying over Manhattan Island, New York, USA, in the 1930s. (AP Photos)

The Hindenburg explodes over Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, May 6, 1937. (AP Photos)

The Hindenburg explodes over Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, May 6, 1937. (AP Photos)

Lighter Than Air Travel

Posted: May 1, 2015

“A sheep, a rooster, and a duck get into a hot air balloon . . .” That sounds like the beginning of a joke! But in 1783, it really happened.

Hot Air Rises

The Montgolfier brothers built fires under paper balloons. Heating the air made the balloons rise. That lifted the balloons into the sky!

The brothers built a bigger silk and paper balloon. They put animals inside a basket attached to the balloon. After an eight-minute flight, they landed safe.

Next they tried a hot air balloon flight with two men. The men had to add straw to a fire keeping the balloon aloft. Sparks flew! What if the balloon caught on fire? Using fire to fly worked, but it was dangerous.

Airships Don’t Turn on a Dime

Balloons couldn’t be steered. In 1852, a French inventor named Henri Giffard set out to solve this problem.

He built a cigar-shaped airship. He filled it with a gas lighter than air: hydrogen. That made it rise. But his invention also had a steam engine attached to a propeller. That allowed him to steer—until he turned around to fly home. His little engine was no match for the wind. And a bigger engine would make his airship too heavy to fly. But his idea helped others to develop steerable airships.

Hydrogen is Explosive

In 1936, the Zeppelin Company began flying passengers across the Atlantic. The Hindenburg was the biggest object ever to fly. It was longer than two football fields!

This giant airship was filled with hydrogen to make it float. Diesel engines propelled it through the air. It was a luxurious ride! It had beds to sleep in. Passengers ate in a fine dining room. Flying on the Hindenburg was expensive. But it only took half as long as sailing across the ocean.

The Hindenburg took 63 flights. But the last one had serious trouble. Hydrogen catches on fire easily. And it was leaking! While waiting to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey, a spark lit the hydrogen on fire. In less than a minute, the airship was destroyed. Many passengers jumped out of the windows and survived. But the wreck of the Hindenburg put an end to airship travel.

God’s Laws

God is a God of order and rules. (Jeremiah 33:25) Hot air rises. Hydrogen is lighter than air. It takes a certain amount of force to move an object. These are some of God’s laws of nature. Because we can depend on them, man can invent all sorts of wonderful things!