She was easily startled by loud noises.

The first woman to fly solo as a lighter-than-air balloon pilot and become a professional balloonist was easily startled by loud noises and scared of riding in carriages. She was shy, “nervous” and often overwhelmed by the bustle of late 18th century Paris. After a major scare, she did not speak for a time.

I am not a fan of diagnosing historical individuals, but these sound like autistic traits.

She was also the official aeronaut of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Restoration King Louis XVIII. Napoleon appointed her a Chief Air Minister of Ballooning. And she was a show woman/businesswoman far ahead of her time, when very few women had visible, independent roles in society and the workplace.

Her name was Sophie Blanchard (born Marie Sophie Armant).

She first started flying at the request of her husband Jean-Pierre Blanchard. An entrepreneurial adventurer who spent more than he earned, he thought that a woman in the air will bring in more money than just his flying. But after that first flight in 1804, she fell in love with the incomparable sensation of freedom and the quiet of being high in the air.

After Jean-Pierre’s death (he had a heart attack while in the air and plunged to his death), she kept flying. Her paid exhibitions attracted large crowds. Frugal and rational, she paid off his debts. But she also fulfilled his dreams of flying over the Alps from France to Italy, and performed other flights that were a wonder of the time. She kept flying even after nearly freezing to death, passing out at a high altitude, and almost drowning after landing in a marsh.

But ballooning is risky, and Sophie Blanchard eventually died doing what she loved: flying.

To minimize her expenses, she made her balloon and her basket as small and cheap as possible. The drama was created by launching fireworks from the balloon on small parachutes. She did this many times, but on 6 July 1819 during high winds her balloon caught fire from the fireworks, causing her to fall. The crowd at first thought this was a part of the show and some kept cheering “Vive Madame Blanchard.”

Sophie Blanchard was a partial inspiration for the character of Amelia Wren in the adventure movie “Aeronauts.” But that character is not “nervous” and startled by loud noises.

I think it is important to remember that even if we are “nervous,” we can still fly to pioneering heights in the realms of our talents and passions.

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2 Responses

  1. Dear Ms. Ludmila:

    You kept my attention throughout this article. Thank you for sharing it.

    Rather risky and tough job of burning material to create hot exhausts and not setting fire to your lift Balloon.

    I’ve only gone up in one of these hot air balloons once, –– it was heated by loud blasts of propane bursting into flame inside of the expanded balloon. The “balloon’s ignition possibility” was in my mind the whole time. The quiet airborne float when the jets of propane were not burning was quite interesting. Yet one ride was enough… There was no means to steer it, the wind currents moved you where they so chose.

    Venting trapped hot air in the attempt to control one’s own decent to some degree was rather tricky. The best controlled landings were still quite rough and bumpy with the passenger container nest often times tipping over and being dragged around a bit. These Aeronauts your write about were 100 years ahead of the Wright Brothers who succeeded using a gasoline engine, propeller and wings.

    Personally, I became much more familiar and comfortable with Helicopter travel instead, even with my plastic door removed and seat belt clip duct-taped closed. And while this contraption makes a great deal of noise, the fact that it can be steered or hovered in a rather still position enabling photographic views to be recorded from a bird’s eye perspective, was the goal. And it was a very fun ride too. Maybe made about 80 of these airborne voyages beginning when I was 13 yrs. old and and spent one-half of a paperboy’s monthly earnings to pay for that first ride. I was immediately hooked…

    Please write and share with us another story. So interesting… Thx & See ya. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind words and your flight insights, @Cabron Bridge! I have never been in the hot air ballon, but I did enjoy my only helicopter flight, and would love to do that again!

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