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Balloons, Blimps, and Helicopters

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

The Invention of the Hot Air Balloon

In 1783, two brothers from France named Montgolfier, became the first men to prove a hot-air balloon could fly. The first flight carried three passengers—a rooster, a duck, and a lamb. Though they were not harmed, a reporter on the scene said, "They were, to say the least, much astonished."

Later that year, two men flew 5 miles in 25 minutes; and ten days later went 25 miles in a hot-air balloon. In 1784, a manned hydrogen balloon rose to an altitude of 12,500ft—over two miles above the earth! In 1785, two men dared fly across the English Channel.

And so it was that fliers became famous and huge crowds began to turn out to see men fly.

"The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who . . . looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space . . . on the infinite highway of the air." ~ WILBER WRIGHT



Balloons and Airships

It did not take long for men to turn their thoughts to the military implications of flying. Air balloons were used in the American Civil War as observation platforms. Air balloons were then used to carry messages during the Franco-Prussian War.

The problem with balloons was that a huge balloon was required to carry very little weight; and they were at the complete mercy of the winds. Frenchman Henri Giffard flew the first powered balloon in 1852. Powered by a steam-driven propeller, it flew 17 miles at about 6mph. Since it was shaped like a cigar, it was not called a balloon but a dirigible. Two more Frenchmen then flew an electric-powered dirigible at 12mph in the 1880s.

Finally in 1898, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a rich Brazilian living in Paris, built and flew dirigibles powered by internal combustion engines. They were now called airships. Two years later, Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin flew the first German airship.



Dirigibles and Zeppelins

Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) was a German cavalry officer until he was in his fifties. He visited the United States during its Civil War and witnessed the use of airships for reconnaissance. In the 1890s he used his own fortune to develop rigid dirigibles. Before he died, he saw them used as bombers in World War One.

In Germany, rigid hydrogen airships—named Zeppelins after their creator—became national icons by the 1910s. Though Led Zeppelins will not fly, Ferdinand Zeppelin used new aluminum alloys that were as strong as steel but 1/3 the weight.

Zeppelins were hard to handle on the ground and very expensive to build. The first Zeppelin was a 420ft long giant. One day they would be twice that length. In 1910 passenger service began. They could fly for eight hours and carry 14 tons at 50mph by 1914. Before the war started, 37,000 people had flown on Zeppelins in sight-seeing excursions.

In the First World War, the Germans used the Zeppelin as a stealth weapon to attack Paris first, and then their ultimate target: London. On a moonless night, they could sneak into enemy territory undetected.

At first, the men on the Zeppelins dropped firebombs over the side. They had little control over where the bombs landed.

On one night in 1916, 16 of the airships bombed London. This made a deep impression on the British civilians, who were terrified at this new weapon in the air.

One Zeppelin would become the first airship ever in the world to be shot down out of the sky—by a British airplane. The pilot, Leefe Robinson, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his feat. As the British made strides in nighttime flying of military airplanes, the idea of traveling to London under a vast bag of inflammable gas lost its appeal.

Still, Zeppelins reached many milestones. In one raid over London, a Zeppelin killed 22 civilians and wounded 87 others. These airships set records in 1917, flying 4,200 miles non-stop; and reaching an altitude of 24,000ft.





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The Graf Zeppelin

In 1928, the German airship Graf Zeppelin carried 20 passengers safely across the Atlantic Ocean. The Graf Zeppelin was like an ocean liner as far as creature comforts go, with luxurious private rooms and a formal dining room with gourmet food. And the view was breathtaking. Surely this was the future of long-distance travel.

The Graf Zeppelin logged 590 flights before she retired, making her the most successful airship ever. In 1929, the Graf Zeppelin flew around the world in 21 days. One leg of the journey, from Germany to Japan, covered 7,000 miles non-stop. Only the rich could fly on such an airship. A roundtrip across the Atlantic cost as much as an average house.



The Hindenburg

The mighty Hindenburg was the largest man-made object to ever fly. It took a crew of 60 to man her. She carried 72 passengers. In May of 1937, the fiery end of the Hindenburg marked the end of Zeppelins.

The Hindenburg was launched in 1936, complete with huge swastikas. It carried 72 passengers at 80mph powered by four 1,100hp diesel engines. And it was filled with hydrogen.

The Hindenburg had made ten trans-Atlantic voyages in 1936. On the afternoon of May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg wafted over Manhattan as strollers on the streets looked up at it. But when she attempted to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the Hindenburg burst into flames.

Within 34 seconds, all that remained was a glowing, red-hot skeleton. Amazingly, 62 of the 97 souls on board survived, though many were badly burned.



The Birth of the Blimp

Of the 161 hydrogen airships built, 60 came to bad ends.

In 1923, the American Goodyear Company had formed a joint corporation with the Zeppelin Company of Germany and had purchased its patents. The Americans had realized early on that hydrogen was simply too dangerous. They wanted to use Helium instead, which is not flammable. But Helium was a rare gas that was only to be found in Texas, which the Americans refused to sell to Nazi Germany.

Eventually, the Americans took over the building of airships and renamed them blimps.



The History of Helicopters

Igor Sikorsky said that "the idea of a vehicle that could lift itself vertically from the ground and hover motionless in the air was probably born at the same time that man first dreamed of flying."

Paul Cornu of France was the first man to build a helicopter that briefly got off the ground in 1907. The chief problem with designing a helicopter was how to control it. The torque generated by a rotating blade would make an aircraft spin the opposite direction of the blade. Additionally, how could a helicopter be made that would rise or fall, hover, change direction, and move backward or forward?

Many men contributed to the development of the helicopter. The Russian Boris Yuriev proved in 1912 that the torque problem could be overcome by a small vertical propeller mounted on the tail. Raul Pateras de Pescara of Argentina figured out how to vary the pitch of each blade to make a helicopter tilt in various directions.

Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva invented the first rotary-wing aircaft in the 1920s, dubbed the autogiro. In 1928, one of his inventions crossed the English Channel .

Louis Breguet of France created perhaps the first real helicopter. But it was the German Heinrich Focke who is recognized as the inventor of the helicopter, with his Fa 61, first flown in 1936. In 1939, Igor Sikorsky produced the best helicopter yet, the VS-300. Sikorsky envisioned a world in which the helicopter replaced the automobile as the common mode of transportation for mankind.

In 1947, the American Bell 47 became the first helicopter in the world licensed for civilian use.

By the 1960s, the Chinook helicopter became the workhorse of the American military in Vietnam. 2,000 of the Bell Huey helicopters were also used during that conflict. It is from the Vietnam War that the use of helicopters to evacuate wounded men was first realized. Today, this is a feature of American civilian life. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My source for this article is Flight: the Complete History by R. G. Grant





1947 BELL 47

1947 BELL 47





In Closing

I must add a personal note. My father has been flying airplanes since 1960. He started with a little 2-seat Cessna but now flies John Travolta and his family around the world in a Falcon 50 luxury jet.

I have never flown in a hot-air balloon, a blimp, nor a helicopter; because when I was yet a wee boy my Daddy told me, "Son, if it doesn't have wings, don't get on it."


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 11, 2013:

Vladimir Uhri— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 11, 2013:

suziecat7--- Hello there, my friend. Determination to succeed--yes indeed! I am glad you found this Hub interesting. I appreciate your kind compliments, too. Thank you for visiting and you are most welcome.



Vladimir Uhri from HubPages, FB on February 07, 2013:

Great information my friend james.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 07, 2013:

seth pollyea--- Hello! I am honored to see that you have visited my Hub. I am glad you liked my article. Yes, my Dad still flies Travolta around some. I am happy for you that you got to meet him and his family those times you flew him with Captain Jim. It's good to hear from you, Son. Have a blessed day!


suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on February 06, 2013:

Hi James - Interesting Hub especially about the history of the zeppelins. Like all inventions, determination to succeed makes it so. The helicopter took many minds to complete, something I didn't know. Great read - thanks.

seth pollyea on February 05, 2013:

James I'll never forget the times I was able too fly the Travolta's with your dad!! I still remember where in my logbook i documented those flights both times in a C650.. Memories for ever.. Great article..

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 30, 2012:

wellsjsam— Hello there! Thanks for coming by to visit. I am well (no pun intended) pleased that you found my Hub very interesting. I appreciate your thoughtful remarks and you are quite welcome. :D

ps Thank your son for me for his service to our country!

Sandy from Corfu, New York on May 22, 2012:

Hi James, I found this very interesting. I had no idea of the history of zeppelins. The piece on helicopters particularly interested me as my son is in the Air Force and has worked on helicopters and the armaments. Thank you for sharing with us.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 14, 2012:

Derdriu— Hey! I notice this is the first Hub of mine to suddenly be converted to the "new look." I am not sure what is afoot there.

Anyway, thank you ever much for reading my work. I am basking in the glow of your accolades. That's all I'm going to say about that. :-)

The voted up button has apparently disappeared! I certainly appreciate you hitting all the other good buttons for me. And you are most welcome.

Faithfully Yours,


Derdriu on May 07, 2012:

James, What a wonderfully elucidating, mesmerizing, thought-provoking look at balloons, blimps, dirigibles, and helicopters! In particular, you do a great job of differentiating between the sometimes confusing information on the submarine-like dirigibles and zeppelins. Also, I like the cultural details and historical references, such as the use of air balloons as information-gathering platforms during the War between the States and the evolution of the role of helicopters. Finally, the comment from your father is as practical and sobering as it is a perfect ending regarding things that may go bump in the air!

Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

P.S. You've got all the votes -- as to be expected what with the high caliber of your researching and writing skills -- but where's the vote-up button?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 09, 2012:

Portamenteff— Thank you!!! Thank you very much!! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 09, 2012:

kashmir56— Thank you for visiting my Hub and leaving your laudatory comments! I very much appreciate you hitting the "voted up" and "awesome" buttons for me! :)

Portamenteff from Western Colorado, USA on March 08, 2012:

Yippy! Fly, fly fly! It's fun no matter what you're in.

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on March 08, 2012:

Hi James, a awesome hub on Aviation and all the flying machine that were the first steps to successful flight.

Awesome and vote up !!!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 19, 2012:

Stessily— As you rightly discerned, "My sense of John Travolta is that he is loyal and that he picks his coterie with care, so he must have complete confidence in your father and feel comfortable with him."

Yes, you wouldn't want just anybody to fly you and your family around the world. Not only for safety's sake—though that would be top priority—but also in the case of a private jet captain there is comaraderie to consider and privacy issues if you are as famous as John Travolta.

I agree with you that "Steve Fossett's death was tragic." I did not hear that "the crash site and his remains were eventually located."

You ask, "Doesn't it make you feel just a little bit extra special about the caliber of your flight school that Steve --- and, for that matter, any and all other attendees --- chose to attain his CitationJet rating there?"

Yes, it does. My dad is a world famous jet instructor. We had quite a few famous race car drivers come down for type ratings, too. They are particularly prone to buy and fly their own jets.

Thanks for coming back. I enjoy our little conversations.

James :-)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 19, 2012:

Alexander Mark— I hope you get that 172, my friend. I love flying in those little bitty airplanes. I spent a lot of time in them when I was a boy flying with my Dad. Cherokees, Comanches, 172s, Barons, 421s. My Dad has always done a lot of instructing, still does. When he sees bad weather rolling in, he calls a student pilot in. He wants to test them, and see how they will react under pressure.

I love how you put this: "I am sure we will enjoy flight beyond anything we can imagine now, when we go home."


I am with you in that I very much enjoy a nice long road trip by car. I been on many great adventures by automobile.

I always love reading your thoughful comments. Thank you for your ongoing friendship and encouragement.

Faithfully Yours,

James :D

stessily on February 16, 2012:

James, John's only venture into children's books is a charming tale, rendered all the more poignant by Jett's sad, untimely death a little over a decade later. "Propeller One Way Night Coach" has received mixed reviews, but I loved it because John's love of flying and love for Jett are evinced throughout.

It had to have been a source of deep comfort to John and his family to know that your father was at the controls at that time. My sense of John Travolta is that he is loyal and that he picks his coterie with care, so he must have complete confidence in your father and feel comfortable with him.

Steve Fossett's death was tragic. I am glad that the crash site and his remains were eventually located. His accidental death underscores the quixotic power of nature, especially downdrafts, vis-à-vis human flight. You know, everyone has value in this world, but doesn't it make you feel just a little bit extra special about the caliber of your flight school that Steve --- and, for that matter, any and all other attendees --- chose to attain his CitationJet rating there?

As for hot air balloons, release your inner Phileas Fogg and go on that ride! You're in good hands with a master hot air balloon pilot, who is also a friend, at the controls.

Kind regards, Stessily

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 16, 2012:

Stessily— Always a pleasure to hear from you, my dear. Yes, how about "those intrepid critters," as you call them so succinctly?

I was unaware that John Travolta wrote a children's book. That is quite interesting. My Dad was with the Travoltas in the Bahamas when Jett met his tragic death. He was at the airport waiting for them. A week later, Dad flew Jett's remains back to the United States.

Steve Fossett I was personally acquainted with. He came to my flight school to attain a CitationJet "type rating." He was with us for two weeks. We had lunch a couple times. Fascinating fellow, to be sure.

I doubt I will try any of the vehicles described in this article. A hot air balloon ride is tempting. I have a friend in Florida who is a master hot air balloon pilot. And I had a very good, long time customer who owns several blimps and leases them out.

Thank you for the compliments and hitting all the good buttons for me.


Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on February 16, 2012:

How can I top that? :-) As to your reasons, I'm sorry private aviation is out of the question, but I am with you on the whole TSA thing. I LOVE flying - especially on airliners, there's something ethereal about the whole experience. BUT, although I will fly to visit friends and family, if they are within a day's driving distance (like Sacramento to Portland), I choose to drive. I resent the whole security process, part of which, ironically, is my job too (moving cars at the baggage claim / arrivals curb even when there is no one else around), and would rather pay extra for gas and take longer to drive so I don't have to give up my rights for the sake of convenience. It helps that I enjoy roadtrips.

I hope to some day own my own aircraft - at least a 172. But if you and I never get there (in your case, again), I am sure we will enjoy flight beyond anything we can imagine now, when we go home.

Love you too man.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 14, 2012:

Alexander Mark- You are a good man, Broham.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 14, 2012:

Gypsy Willow- You have made a great observation. Thank you! :D

stessily on February 13, 2012:

James, Count on those intrepid critters to trailblaze: a rooster, a duck, and a lamb on the first hot-air balloon flight! I love those critters but you only need one dog or one monkey; they'll do the job and disembark with wagging tail (dog) or chattering (monkey).

Like Alexander Mark, I thought John Travolta did all his own flying. His love of being at the controls came through in the children's book he wrote for his son Jett: "Propeller One-Way Night Coach."

Fixed wing planes always unnerve me during landing.

I saw the Goodyear Blimp once; it was quite a thrilling, unique sight.

Helicopters have always fascinated me, as have hot-air balloons. If I ever were in a hot-air balloon, I guess that I would want to follow in the paths of Jules Verne, Steve Fossett, Per Lindstrand, Richard Branson, et al., and cover some distance!

But now all I have in my head are your dad's words, so if helicopters and hot-air balloons happen in my life, then they happen.

You never intend to grace hot-airs, blimps, or helicopters with your presence?

Per your comment above, perhaps TSA wouldn't strip search you.

Excellent hub. All the votes.

Kind regards, Stessily

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 12, 2012:

Alexander Mark- What I mean is, my private flying days are likely over. And with the new TSA strip searches and all I am not inclined to fly commercial anymore either.

I appreciate your warm words, my friend. God Bless You!

Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on February 12, 2012:

Aw nuts. Hi Gypsy!

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on February 11, 2012:

You should know Alexander that a helicopter is a group of nuts and bolts flying in close formation!

Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on February 11, 2012:

Hey now, you can't tease us like that - your flying days are over???

If I ever find more time, I will find out which dirigible that is.

As always, you are a gentleman :-) I am the one grateful I get to communicate with such an excellent author.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 10, 2012:

Alexander Mark- Great to "see" you here, my aviation friend! Travolta is a fine pilot. But I don't think he is rated in the Falcon 50, or insured in the left seat. He does co-pilot sometimes and fly it I believe.

I guess it could be said, or might I should say IS said, that the rotor blade is a wing. I doubt I'll ever ride in one, though I am sure it would be fun. My flying days might be over in fact.

I am not familiar with "the blimp with the little fighter attached to it." I will have to check that out.

As always, I appreciate your excellent comments. Thank you for reading my article.

Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on February 08, 2012:

I thought Travolta flew himself! Ha ha, I know he has to have a crew backing him up and I always wondered who had the distinction - turns out I already knew the son of one of them.

By the way, helicopters do have wings - in my estimation, because it can autorotate, it's safe enough to fly in. However, I used to feel that helicopters were not "real" aircraft when I was much younger, until my brother offered to pay for a ride to break that illusion. It was awesome - a completely different experience. I am truly taken aback that you have never flown on one!

It is true that helicopters are more dangerous of course, when I worked at GA, I was often surprised at how many fixed wing pilots lacked common sense and intelligence - proving that fixed wings are inherently easier to fly (even for smart people). Helicopter pilots may sometimes be crazy, but I have never met a bad professional helicopter pilot - it takes skill.

As for blimps, my favorite combo is the blimp with the little fighter attached to it. Talk about an air carrier!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 07, 2012:

drbj— I am glad you recognized the pictures. I enjoyed putting the photo gallery together.

I love the story you shared with us, "one of those ancient, tiny 2-seater planes. The view is unbelievable and the sensation of flying is unforgettable. But one flight (it was a very windy day) was more than enough." :D

Yes, Tavolta is a pilot and he has a couple classic jets from the 60s that he gets out of the hangar once and a while. He is quite a guy.

Thank you for your always excellent comments. I appreciate the visit.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 07, 2012:

jainismus— Why, I thank you kind sir for your gracious compliments. I am exceedingly glad you read this Hub and liked it. I hope to visit with you again soon. :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 07, 2012:

michiganman567— A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Thank you for your kind words. And you are welcome.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

mandymoreno81— I must apologize on behalf of HubPages. For the second time one of your comments (this one) was bumped into my Spam Comments Box. I don't know why. Maybe because you haven't published any Hubs yet. So get on it! I want to read your writing.

You've made excellent points with your remarks. Thank you for visiting and commenting. :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

Angela Blair— I'm not sure you are the worst, Sis. In my years running a private jet charter service we had our share of white-knuckle flyers, some of whom required drugs to make it through the flight.

But my mom is the same way. She will not get on an airplane at all. Funny, since my Dad has logged close to 40,000 hours in the air and flown all over the world. He has even flown a private jet to Cuba and China, which not many people have ever done.

I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub. Thank you for the compliments and the voted up. And you are most welcome.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

grandmapearl— Are you near Watkins Glen—my namesake? I have been there! I have been all over the Finger Lakes and stayed for two weeks on Seneca Lake once. I have spent a bit of time in Addison as well, where I still have some distant relatives.

I am glad your enjoyed this Hub. Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate the visitation.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

Genna East— Ah! Your son is a pilot is he? I once had a Part 141 flight school (your son will know what that is) where we trained thousands of pilots. It is gone now. :(

I love flying in those dinky planes. Yea, the wind buffets you but what a view! And you are going slow enough to really take it in.

I am glad you enjoyed the Hub. Thank you for the accolades! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

Cardisa— I LOVE history. I guess that is obvious. You like 18th Century? I wrote a Hub about Europe in the 18th Century. Here is the link to it:

I also broke off two other Hubs entitled "18th Century England" and "18th Century France." :-)

I very much appreciate your kind comments. And you are most welcome.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

Will Starr— I remembered that you were a pilot. While I spent a long time in the aviation business, I never got a license to fly.

I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub. Thanks for saying so.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

Kieran Gracie— Thank you for sharing that fascinating bit about the British Airships. The book I used for this article ('Flight: The Complete History' by R.G. Grant) has a page on those machines in fact but I didn't have the space to include them.

As you said brilliantly, Helicopters "do immense tasks that no other machine could do, so thank God we have them."


I surely appreciate this visit from you, especially since you are a flyer yourself. I enjoyed your excellent comments.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 06, 2012:

What a fascinating lesson this is, James, in the history of hot air balloons, dirigibles, airships, blimps and helicopters. You did the subject proud. And the pictures are great.

Your dad is famous ... just like you. I believe Travolta is also a pilot with many flying hours under his belt. I once flew in one of those ancient, tiny 2-seater planes. The view is unbelievable and the sensation of flying is unforgettable. But one flight (it was a very windy day) was more than enough. :(

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 05, 2012:

quicksand— Hello, my friend. It is always a pleasure to hear from you. Aviation is a fascinating field; one that I had the good fortune to participate in for 14 years. I really enjoyed your cheerful remarks. Thank you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 05, 2012:

oceansnsunsets— Hello there. I am glad to see you like the pictures in the Hub. I appreciate the visit and your comments.

Yep, my daddy has been flying the Travoltas for quite a few years now. He says they are sweet people.

I am grateful to you for the "voted up, interesting and awesome." Thank you for the accolades! :)

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on February 05, 2012:


As always, you have written a great Hub! Very interesting and useful for students of history of aviation.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 05, 2012:

Curiad— Thank you!

Wow, you possess a "Lighter than Air/Hot Air Balloon rating and taught ballooning?!"

That is aweosme, my friend. You have been around the block and then some.

Thank you for making those gracious remarks @ Gypsy. I especially like your keen observation that "Control in a balloon is all about sensitivity to the environment and patience."

Well put.

I sincerely appreciate this visitation from you. Bon Voyage!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 05, 2012:

Kaie Arwen— That is a beautiful thought. But do you want to disappear?

I know what you mean about the size of the Zeppelin. Those things were huge. It made for a big target if the British flyers could see it.

I am so glad you are happy. And I appreciate your warm words. Thank you for visiting and commenting. And you are most welcome. :D


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 05, 2012:

Gypsy Willow— Thank you for being my first visitor!

You are an adventurer. I appreciate your kind compliments. I am well pleased to have brought back some good memories for you. And I am glad you enjoyed this Hub. :-)

Dave Smith from Michigan on February 05, 2012:

This hub was very interesting as usual. Thanks for the history lesson. Now I know the difference between a blimp and a Zeppelin.

mandymoreno81 on February 04, 2012:

I wonder why once biplanes were developed, they didn't stop working on airships. At that point one would think that a plane is much safer and offers more commercial and military applications than a ship full of combustible hydrogen.

Angela Blair from Central Texas on February 04, 2012:

Enjoyed this exceptional Hub, James -- in spite of the fact that I'm the worst air passenger in the world. I have flown (due to my job) and will fly now (emergency) but am definitely a land lubber by nature. I find all aircraft fascinating and enjoy reading about them -- especially the hot air balloons. You've broadened my horizons as to aircraft history and I thank you. Voted up! Best, Sis

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on February 04, 2012:

Well-written and researched Hub with lots of interesting history and information. I enjoyed reading this very much. Twice a year the Goodyear Blimp flies over since we are very near an airport and also very near a NASCAR racetrack. I can always tell when it is approaching from the sound of the motor. It's an awesome sight!

We are also very near the Sikorsky Hawkworks Helicopter Manu. Facility. They test their choppers all the time and some of them really move fast! When they fly over low, we can see the tops of the trees moving and the sound is very loud.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 04, 2012:

Excellent, well-crafted and researched hub, Jim. I enjoyed reading this, and learned a few things as well. My son loves aviation and is a pilot. One day, not long ago, he took me flying in one of those little 2-seater Cessna's after he obtained the necessary certification. The strong wind buffeted this little thing about in the sky as if it was made of out of paper mache. I’ll never forget that flight. :-)

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on February 04, 2012:

James, you write the most comprehensive and best history hubs. I wish I liked history as much. My favourite period was medieval times 18th century. Thanks for sharing this. I would be scared of the hot air balloon but I understand that it's safer than most of the more modern kind of air vehicles.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on February 04, 2012:

Like your dad, I got my ticket in the 60's, in a Cessna 150, but I never graduated to high performance stuff.

Very enjoyable Hub!

Kieran Gracie on February 04, 2012:

A great Hub, James. There are two sheds still in existence that were made to house the British R100 and its sister airship. They are located at Cardington, just outside the town of Bedford in the UK, and their sheer size is breathtaking. I believe that they are used occasionally for model aircraft flying - indoors, of course!

As a former fixed-wing pilot I agree with your father's comments about helicopters. They are always noisy and rattle terribly, and really shouldn't be able to keep themselves airborne! On the plus side, of course, they do immense tasks that no other machine could do, so thank God we have them. I'm just glad that there are people prepared to fly them!

quicksand on February 04, 2012:

Hi James, another interesting article. Aviation has always fascinated me and I hope to own a flying machine someday ... of course one with wings, as I too wish to abide by the advice given by Mr Watkins Snr!

Cheers and good luck!

Paula from The Midwest, USA on February 03, 2012:

Hello James, this is very interesting history about balloons, blimps and helicopters. You cover the information well and make it fun with all the photos.

That is interesting about your father flying around the Travolta family, and his advice about not going up in the air without wings.

Another great hub, voted up, interesting and awesome. Thank you for taking the time to make such a great hub. I love the history and there is so much to learn! Oh, and I kind of like the name airship over blimp. Great trivia there.

Curiad on February 03, 2012:

Good job James, this is a very interesting article. I especially find it interesting because I have a Lighter than Air/Hot Air Balloon rating and taught ballooning with Balloon Excelsior in California.

@Gypsy, actually the modern hot air balloon is very controllable. The Pilot ascends and descends to fly in different layers of air that are moving in different directions. In California, where I taught ballooning, we would often take off from Tracy Municipal Airport, fly southwest at less than 500 feet and then climb to 1200 feet and return to the airport and land where we started. Control in a balloon is all about sensitivity to the environment and patience.

Kaie Arwen on February 03, 2012:

JJRBJ- This was fun! I love the hot air balloons, would love to climb inside and slowly disappear into the horizon.......... what a beautiful thought.

The photo of the Zeppelin was truly mind boggling........... I had no idea of its size until I saw it photographed as a backdrop to all those people.......... wow!

Thanks for this............. educational and entertaining; what more could a girl ask for! Well, I really have all I could ask for..............

:-D Kaie

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on February 03, 2012:

Great summary of the early days of flight. I have been up in a balloon and I know how uncontrollable it is but great fun. I also had a lesson in a tiny Robinson helicopter which was even more fun but too expensive to do a complete course. Enjoyed this immensely as it brought back good memories of past exploits.

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