Ballooning was the first successful documented means of manned flight. Hot air (Montgolfiere) and gas balloons (Charlieres) both had first flights in France in 1783, with the hot air balloon being the first to fly. The enthusiasm for the original hot air balloons soon waned, however, dimmed by the smoky fuels of the day which included straw, rags, and a variety of other less-than-wonderful materials. The scientists of the day believed that smoke and not hot air created the lift. And they may have been right for the wrong reasons. The porous fabrics used in the early balloons may have needed the carbon from the dirty smoke to seal the fabric pores to hold in the heated air that really created the lift. But hydrogen and later helium gas balloons became the standard for over 175 years.
Modern propane-fueled nylon hot-air balloons derive from an experimental balloon built under a Navy contract by Ed Yost and Raven Industries. This balloon, crude and underpowered by today’s standards, first flew in October, 1960. Joined by Don Piccard, a member of the family known for scientific research in gas balloons and undersea craft, Yost and Raven developed the classic side maneuvering vent, velcro rip-top deflation port sport balloon. (Piccard later broke away to form his own company.) A physics student from Minnesota named Tracy Barnes developed the parachute-top balloon, a design which combines the maneuvering vent and deflation port in a single automatically resealing vent at the top of the balloon.
Today, Raven balloons (now known as Aerostars) and Barnes-designed balloons (built by The Balloon Works) are the two most common balloons flown in the United States. Another major manufacturer is Cameron, a British balloon builder known for odd-shaped balloons including Forbes “Chateau de Balleroy”, “Sphinx”, and “Harley-Davidson” balloons. Cameron also builds a line of the more classical round balloons, with balloons for the U.S. market being built under license in Michigan. Other American balloon manufacturers include National, Galaxy, and Head balloons. Lindstrand Balloons, another British balloon line, is also manufactured under license in the United States.