Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fun Friday Facts #19: Air Travel Edition

Ok, so firstly I owe y'all an apology because I missed last Friday's Fun Facts. I was in the middle of moving back to the U.S. from Europe, and these things are complicated, especially when you're trying to figure out how to fit everything you own into one suitcase. I was going to do it on Saturday/Sunday/Monday/Tuesday but I was still working on the suitcase thing. Eventually I gave up and packed three suitcases. Well, four, if you count the carry-on. I may be a genius, but I'm not a magician.

THIS GUY is a magician. ~ Piotrus

Of course, I know you'll accept my apology and forgive me, because that's what love means, dammit.

In honor of my journey (which involved bad weather, long flight delays and general hellishness), I've decided to make this Friday's Back-on-Track Fun Facts all about AIR TRAVEL. Yay, we love air travel, don't we? Yes, we do.

1) Like toilets and toilet paper, the history of aviation extends back much further than it has any business doing. The first toy plane (or “flying model” as the academics like to call it) was the work of Archytas, a Greek philosopher, in 400 BC.

Greek philosophers were thick on the ground in those days. ~ Marie-Lan Nguyen

The toy, called “The Pigeon,” was shaped like a (you guessed it) pigeon and was probably steam-powered. It flew for about 656 feet (200 meters), which is further than most people are willing to run.

2) The Chinese invented hot air balloons a century later, but it's believed they were used for signalling purposes only. Jacques-Etienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier are credited with the first manned hot air balloon flight, which occurred on 15 October 1783. Jacques-Etienne's did briefly ascend in the balloon, he did not release it from its tether, because f*ck that crazy sh*t. The first men to ascend without the tether were Marquis François d'Arlandes and Pilâtre de Rozier, who did so on 21 November 1783.

And they didn't even die.

3) During the Middle Ages, various geniuses began pursuing the dream of flight via hang glider. Early inventors such as Elmer of Malmesbury managed to build gliders that took them as far as 656 feet (200 meters), because that, apparently, is the magic number of early flight experiments. Malmesbury accomplished this feat by jumping off the tower of Malmesbury Abbey. No one knows how tall the tower was back then, but it's believed that Elmer's flight would have lasted about 15 seconds and taken him over numerous structures. He sustained injuries upon landing, because he'd jumped off a f*cking tower.

But it was worth it, because he got this cool window. ~ Radicalrobbo

4) The first person to be killed in an aviation-related accident was Pilâtrede Rozier, the same guy from before. He designed his own balloon, the Rozière balloon, which combined hot air with gases such as helium or hydrogen in order to lift the balloon using less fuel. De Rozier wanted to cross the English channel, and the Montgolfier balloon (designed by that other guy from before) required too much fuel to make the trip.

On 15 June 1785, de Rozier and copilot Pierre Romain set out from Boulogne-sur-Mer on what was to be their final flight. Although they initially seemed to do well, a sudden change in the wind pushed them back to land, and their balloon deflated. They crash-landed near Wimereux, falling about 1500 feet (457 meters).

And they totally died. This is getting depressing. 

4) Since we like feminists around here, the first woman to die in an aviation-related accident was Sophie Blanchard, wife of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who was only the first professional aviator EVAR. While not the first female aviator, Sophie was pretty famous in her time. She was one of Napoleon's favorites, often entertaining him with ascents from the Champ de Mars in Paris, or commemorating such events as the birth of his son or his marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria. Sophie was famous throughout Europe, on one occasion crossing the Alps and, on another, flying from Rome to Naples in her balloon. More than once, Sophie ascended so far that she lost consciousness. She liked to fly at night, and would sometimes remain in the air until morning.

Sophie Blanchard's balloon was filled with hydrogen gas. Sophie's bi-weekly performances at the Tivoli Gardens in Paris included large fireworks displays. These fireworks were actually attached to the balloon itself. Sophie's final show was meant to use even more fireworks than usual. Fire and hydrogen gas do not mix well.

Not well at all. 

Sophie had been repeatedly warned of the dangers involved here, and, on the night of her death, 6 July 1819, she is said to have hesitated to go up. Finally, Sophie decided to go through with the performance, although witnesses report that she swore it would be her final one.

She was right.