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1785

Across the English Channel in a balloon

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jeffries travel from Dover, England, to Calais, France, in a gas balloon, becoming the first to cross the English Channel by air. The two men nearly crashed into the Channel along the way, however, as their balloon was weighed down by extraneous supplies such as anchors, a nonfunctional hand-operated propeller, and silk-covered oars with which they hoped they could row their way through the air. Just before reaching the French coast, the two balloonists were forced to throw nearly everything out of the balloon, and Blanchard even threw his trousers over the side in a desperate, but apparently successful, attempt to lighten the ship.

Fourteen months earlier, French inventor Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and French army officer Francois Laurent had made the first manned hot air balloon flight when they flew over Paris for approximately 25 minutes. In January 1785, Rozier was among those racing to become the first balloonist to cross the English Channel, but just a few days before Blanchard and Jeffries’ flight, he and his co-pilot were killed when their balloon caught fire during an attempted crossing.

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