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258th birthday of Jean-Pierre Blanchard who made the first balloon flight over the English Channel

Jean Pierre Blanchard

Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753 – 1809)

Blanchard made his first successful balloon flight in Paris on 2 March 1784, in a hydrogen gas balloon launched from the Champ de Mars.

Blanchard moved to London in August 1784, where he took part in a flight on 16 October 1784 with John Sheldon (anatomist), just a few weeks after the first flight in Britain (and the first outside France), when Italian Vincenzo Lunardi flew from Moorfields to Ware on 15 September 1784. Blanchard’s propulsion mechanisms – flapping wings and a windmill – again proved ineffective, but the balloon flew some 115 km from the military academy in Chelsea, landing in Sunbury and then taking off again to end in Romsey. Blanchard took a second flight on 30 November 1784, taking off with an American, Dr John Jeffries, from Rhedarium Garden west of Grosvenor Square in London to Ingress in Kent.

the first balloon flight over the English ChannelA third flight, again with Jeffries, was the first flight over the English Channel, taking about 2½ hours to travel from England to France on 7 January 1785, flying from Dover Castle to Guînes. Blanchard was awarded a substantial pension by Louis XVI.

Blanchard toured Europe, demonstrating his balloons. Blanchard holds the record of first balloon flights in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland. Among the events that included demonstrations of his abilities as a balloonist was the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II as king of Bohemia in Prague in September 1791.

Following the invention of the modern parachute in 1783 by Sébastien Lenormand in France, in 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard demonstrated it as a means of safely disembarking from a hot air balloon. While Blanchard’s first parachute demonstrations were conducted with a dog as the passenger, he later had the opportunity to try it himself when in 1793 his hot air balloon ruptured and he used a parachute to escape. Subsequent development of the parachute focused on it becoming more compact. While the early parachutes were made of linen stretched over a wooden frame, in the late 1790s, Blanchard began making parachutes from folded silk, taking advantage of silk’s strength and light weight.

On 10 January 1793, Blanchard conducted the first balloon flight in North America, ascending from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and landing in Deptford, Gloucester County, 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. Blanchard left the United States in 1797.

He married Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant (better known as Sophie Blanchard) in 1804. In 1809, Blanchard had a heart attack while in his balloon at the Hague. He fell from his balloon and died some weeks later from his severe injuries