MAY 1784

The 29th of may 1784, the Academe de Dijon’s balloon (104 000 cubic foot - 3565 m3) have been inflated with ordinary air. The “commissaries” judged good to leave it in that state until the following day in order to let dry some area which had just been covered with varnish. They had observed that the thermometer had rised to 39 degrees, while it was indicating only 23° exposed to the sun. Few days before they had noticed it had rised to 60° in the same circumstances, but the didn’t note the outside temperature at this time (The temperatures are probably given in “Degrees Réaumur”, about the only ones in use at this time).
The 30th of may, around noon, a strong wind rose and beguin to shack the balloon. 2 man left on it’s guard, intended to hold it by the stitch of the net. Pieces of it broke into their hands and the aerostat escaped to them. It first begin to climb into a courtyard above one of the poles 43 feet tall (14m) that have been putted here to rise the net, bringing with it not only the net but also ropes the equatorial circle, adding up to 250 lbs (122 kg), including the envelop weight. The balloon was hold by 2 ropes passed on a big rope tensed between the 2 poles. It broke 2 of those and tore off the post of the third. It got out the court yard over a building located to the east. Being landed in an other court yard behind this building the named Crosnier, sixteen years old weighing 71 lbs (34,7 kg), courageously grabbed one of the ropes to hold it back he turned the rope around his wrist . in the instant he had been cried over a wall 9fts high (2,9m), and falled back on the other side . The balloon continued it’s route, passed over the first avenue of “cours de la porte Bourbon”, to the great astonishment of the people that ran to see it. It did go to fall down at moor than 250 steps (unfortunately on 2 tree recently replanted which the naked twig tear it on all the length on several places ).”
“Voyages aériens” - by J.Glaisher, C.Flamarion, W.De Fonvielle et G.Tissandier - Hachette - 1870


At the completion of his architects formation, Dominic Michaelis had already written a thesis on the solar house. This was back in 1964!
In 1970 he is leading a team of architects and engineers specialized in the use of solar energies. This international consulting group was called “Solar Energy Developments” and had broad centers of interest. Dominic Michaelis realized a project : a 45m diameter solar dome for the movie “Human” directed by Jérôme Lapérousaz with Jeanne Moreau, Terence Stamp and Frédéric van Pallandt.
Dominic Michaelis believed that a hot air balloon can fly with solar energy alone. To confirm this, he built a small balloon (1 cubic meter) with a double skin envelope. The results were encouraging. The temperature difference betaken inside and outside was about 27°C, which corresponds to a lift of approximately 100 grams per m3. Then after building a few small balloons, he build a large one (diameter 10 meters) that was able to lift his son Stéphane (30 kg) who so became the first solar balloon human pilot (captive flight). But one day the balloon broke loose from its moorings and disappeared into the Oxfordshire skies.
In 1972 Dominic Michaelis built a huge balloon of 22 meter diameter (more than 5000 cubic meter or 180’000 cubic feet) with a 12 micron transparent polyester film (Melinex® - Mylar® of DuPont Polyester Films). Inside the balloon where 3 vertical black screens with 120° between each, forming a trefoil. The air inside the balloon is heated by greenhouse effect and the black screens pick up the energy that has gone through the transparent polyester film. The envelope is reinforced by vertical and horizontal adhesive tapes (J-Lar910® or J-Larii®). These tapes define 240 panels and limit the possible tearing to a maximum length of 50 cm. The balloon is fitted with a aluminum honeycomb basket (very stiff and light). This balloon easily lifted one adult man. The test flights were conducted tethered to a Land Rover.


For manned solar free flight, Dominic Michaelis chose to build a balloon with a double envelope : Dominic Michaelis commissioned Cameron Balloons in Bristol to make for him :
- a black balloon 3000 cubic meter (104’000 cubic foot) built of polyester (Dacron®),
- a transparent balloon 4000 cubic meter (140’000 cubic foot) made of double layer transparent (Melinex®). The transparent outer skin consists of two transparent films with, inserted between them, a layer of glue coated reinforcing mesh. Each hole in the mesh defines an air bubble. These air bubbles increase the insulation.
The transparent balloon produces the greenhouse effect while the inner black envelope picks up the trapped solar radiation and transfers this energy to the air enclosed within it. The thermal looses by convection of the black balloon are totally recovered for the lifting of the transparent envelope. The twin envelopes were attached to the basket in a hangar. A gas burner is fitted to ease the inflation, or to cope with the possibility of cloud cover during the flight. The altitude control is done by the opening or closing of horizontal panels located at the balloon equator. The deflation is possible with irreversible rip panels at the balloon crowns.
This balloon (number G-BAVU) participated in some hot air balloon festivals in England from 1976 to 1980. The flights where usually performed during the late evening in such a way that, assuming a valve failure, the uncontrollable balloon would not rise too high.

During the international ISES meeting about solar energy that was held in Brighton in 1981, Julian NOTT (with hot air balloon altitude world record 1980 : 55000 feet) decided to attempt the channel crossing with Dominic Michaelis’s solar balloon.
The lift-off took place at 7h 30 am on 22nd of August 1981 to the North West of Dover. After a silent crossing without any trouble the landing was made at Tournehem sur la Hem in the Pas-de-Calais.
During the flight J. NOTT used the burner only once : during the landing. He had some difficulty to deflate the balloon because the valves were not working well that day. The envelope is at the British Balloon Museum now.
In the mid 70’s, Tracy BARNES in the states also made some solar flights under a tetrahedral single skin solar balloon.
MICHAELIS is still involved in solar energy : he is producing solar ovens (www.solarenergyltd.net) and he still has a lot of projects in mind..

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Since 1977, the french CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales - sort of French N.A.S.A) developed the MIR balloon for the stratospheric long duration scientific flight.
During the day, the MIR balloon flies at an altitude of about 28 to 32 km and during night between 18 to 22 km depending on the infrared flux radiating from the over flown area and the temperature of the air at the flight altitude. They can carry a payload of about 50 kg. The route follow the stratospheric wind. Enough for more than on turn around the world. The MIR is a hot air balloon “open at the bottom” with an helium complement at takeoff. With their reflective cover, those balloons from 35 000 m3 to 45 000 m3 are heated only by the heat from the sun during the day or the infrared radiation from the earth during the night. The “passive” heater heat the air within the balloon, giving some lift to the vehicle made by ZODIAC INTERNATIONAL, the MIR is made of 2 different made in a material presenting a good compromise between optic-thermal properties and weight.
- The top part is made of aluminized Mylar 12 μm thick making a cavity for absorbing ascendants infrared and block any re emission toward the sky.
- The bottom part is made of linear polyethylene 15μm thick ,an infrared transparent material and tough at cold (temperature inferior to -80°C) during the flight.

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Jean-Paul Domen invented a revolutionary hot air balloon.
“At the beginning, I wanted to make a solar balloon. I didn’t know it was already made and even distributed by the kid magazine Pif Gadget : some plastic trash bags to build a black screen, adhesive tape to put together the envelope. Build it in my kitchen ... Launch... and a ridiculous result : my toy got into a tangle at the top of the TV antenna of my neighbor... anyway, it flew for a short while. From this time, I have extrapolated to build a solar balloon able to lift a human to a high altitude. Computing all that I noticed that the needed energy increase faster with the balloon size than the energy actually intercepted. To sum-up the bigger the balloon the slower it rise. So we need an energy proportional to the volume.
It is into the huge quantity of energy available in the thunder storms that Jean-Paul DOMEN found the solution : into a cumulonimbus cloud vertical velocity can reach 100m/s because of the heat generated by the condensing water vapor.
The rest is easy to guess : “and what if we’d do the same into the balloon enclosing a small cloud?”. The thunder cell balloon was born.
The water vapor is stored into the envelope. During the ascent the sun heat up the air and when the “point de rosée” (dew point altitude) is reached (during a sunny summer day around 2000m altitude), it is mainly the condensing of the water vapor that provide the needed energy to continue the ascent.
Jean-Paul DOMEN, independent engineer, docteur-ingénieur Sup’Aéro, has made a vapor generator adapted to this project then performed some flight with the balloon “Bulle d’Orage” (thunder cell) during the years 1992 to 1996.
Most of those test have been realized under the control of CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales) (sort of French N.A.S.A) and the goal was to lift a heavy load into the stratosphere:
-15 May 1992, a load 1 kg under a balloon 30m3 rise up to an altitude of 18000m.
-6 May 1993, a balloon 600m3 lift a load of 40 kg to 12200m.
-February 1996, a balloon 8000m3, 25m diameter lift a load of 270 kg at an altitude of 12000m.
Summer 1996, Jean-Paul DOMEN performs the first free flight of a solar balloon on a distance of 300m the balloon was 16m diameter inflated with ambient air (without adding vapor ).. It is a simple envelope made of black polyethylene thickness : 15 microns. A valve 2,5m diameter is fitted at the top. The bottom opening is about 2m wide ; a propeller driven by an electric motor permit to inflate / deflate the balloon to control the altitude.

In 1998, in Medellin (Colombia), Alejandro Uribe wants to change the tradition of balloons of paper using the sun to heat them. Initially, he manufactures solar ballWoons in black polyethylene. Then he uses polyethylene color as well as non-symmetrical shapes. In December 1999, it inflates a structure 135m long made with 250 kg of polyethylene and 17 km from tape. The audience is large, the press and television are also present. It is the largest solar balloon ever built. Since 2001, the month of December, Alejandro organizes “Fiesta del Globo Solar.
In 2001, Laurent Besset, French reference for solar balloon, invented a platinum electronic control altitude and performs five free flights in Mauritania. Nowadays, NASA is studying the possibility of using solar balloons for exploration of Mars and even Jupiter, Saturn and its moon Titan.


Gérard AUVRAY and the solar balloon
Working with Jean-Paul DOMEN, Gérard AUVRAY, electronic engineer and radio ham F6FAO, have used some 4m (13 ft) diameter solar balloon for experiment (transmitted : temperatures, humidity, altitude).
Example : The 6 July 1997 at 9h30 a 4m takeoff from Arcachon with a 500 gr load : power card, analog to binary converter card analog /digital/format packet, card probe and, bip-bip transmitter. The balloon climbed to more than 18000m. The outside temperature was -50°C and polyethylene temperature got up to 80°C !. The balloon landed close of Marseille around 23h 30 !.
The localization of the balloon during the flight was made possible by radio ham ("chasse aux renards").
Gérard AUVRAY, the solar balloon and the solar airplane :
Working with Jean-Paul DOMEN, Gérard AUVRAY made a solar drone 6 m wingspan and weighing 7 kg. This drone will be carried to high altitude by a solar balloon then dropped (this will avoid climbing through the dense layers of the atmosphere). It should then in total autonomy cross the Atlantic !. It will use the stratospheric winds that goes from east to west opposite to the atmospheric currents), there will be no cloud at this height and the day zone also goes to the west . It will have to compute it's route with the help of a microprocessor linked to a GPS, and an inclinometer and to the engines.
Emmanuel LAURENT and François KORMANN
More test from Emmanuel LAURENT in the page "Nouveaux concepts de ballons solaires" (in french)


Laurent BESSET - The solar balloon
Spring 2000, Laurent BESSET discover the solar balloon on the. After meeting Jean-Paul DOMEN and Gérard AUVRAY, he decide to continue the Jean-Paul DOMEN project.
Laurent BESSET also build a electronic card performing 2 functions :
- automatically stabilize the flight altitude : a software controls the opening and closing off a valve at the top of the balloon, a servo control wind up or unwind the string controlling the valve.
- it is also used as a multipurpose flight instrument : it does display all the needed parameter for manual control : altitude, inner temperature outside temperature, distance envelope to valve, battery power level.
The summer 2000 used to check and perform all the calculations and tests : envelope (template, build method , sizing of the valve , the rip panel, rotation panel), loading circle link to the polyethylene envelope en), harness ballast (fastening on the loading circle ), stuff for inflating (“fabric” on ground, fan, teetering) and building the altitude control.

The build a 14,5m diameter solar balloon was conducted the 3 January 2001 (8 hours job for 4 people), then the balloon was finished the following month.
During he summer 2001 some tethered flight test with 11 m and 14,5 m balloon many indoor tests of the electronic (altitude mode auto pilot) : simulating altitude variation, distance envelope to valve variation, software modifications. Creation of a miniballon build able in a living room by any body.
More test from Laurent BESSET in the pages Actualité - Essais en cours (in french)




In 1998, in Medellin (Colombia), Alejandro Uribe wants to change the tradition of balloons of paper using the sun to heat them. Initially, he manufactures solar balloons in black polyethylene. Then he uses polyethylene color as well as non-symmetrical shapes. In December 1999, it inflates a structure 135m long made with 250 kg of polyethylene and 17 km from tape. The audience is large, the press and television are also present. It is the largest solar balloon ever built. Since 2001, the month of December, Alejandro organizes “Fiesta del Globo Solar.
In 2001, Laurent Besset, French reference for solar balloon, invented a platinum electronic control altitude and performs five free flights in Mauritania. Nowadays, NASA is studying the possibility of using solar balloons for exploration of Mars and even Jupiter, Saturn and its moon Titan.
There is in the south America (especially in Brazil) a hot air balloon tradition (sometime more than 60 m tall). They are made of silk paper or Kraft, built by the population. Those balloons are a part of the local popular art.
They are also part of lot of big fair. Those balloon are all size and shape, carry banners, during the night they are illuminated by a candela . Hanged under there is a gas burner that heat up the air into the balloon. Kids and adults to follow the balloons during the and try to be the first to catch it when they are back on the ground. But those balloon can start big fire (forest fire, household fire , etc.). In Brazil, the police forbid those balloon, building them is outlaw since 1998, but the “baloeiros” (the balloon maker) cling to their traditions... They secretly continue to build giant paper balloon and they launch their dream over the neighborhood In December 1995, a paper balloon as set a fire that totally destroyed the Renault industrial plant : la SOFASA. Sins then, the police destroy all balloon under construction and forbid all flight. But the tradition still continue under cover!
Alejandro URIBE retained the memory a gimmick that vas given with the milk packs back in the eighties : a cylindrical solar balloon (same as Pif Gadget). Then he tried to make the tradition evolve from the paper balloon to the solar. He use polyethylene which is much more efficient to pickup the sun energy than silk paper.
In 1998, he made a 5 m solar balloon assembling black trash bags, one of those balloon with a reflective part have been mistaken for an UFO and caused a great fear in the population.
He latter noticed that he could use colored polyethylene and non symmetrical shapes.
For the 21st century, the 31 December 1999, he inflate a polyethylene structure 135m long 250 kg weight and 17 km of adhesive tape !. The audience is large, the press and TV are also there. For the custom, a musician play flute into the balloon to bring chance on. The balloon rise a few time loosing it’s shape, then end up by a take off and a flight above the town. But a huge hole cause the balloon crashed and joined some power lines,
nevertheless this one could fly for 15 minutes all over the city and then it fell. Then the balloon was recovered really broken, but in 20 days it was fixed again and it was flown on january 23th of 2000 and succesfully !
This is the bigger balloon ever made (even if it is not in the Guiness book).
Alejandro later made many different shapes. After many hours of building those, balloon ar inflated, exposed to the sun an take off.... Like this an airplane pilot reported that he had sight of one of the whalelaunched by Alejandro !
The Medellin (Colombia) solar balloon festival
To perpetuate the tradition of the balloon festival, Alejandro organized in 2001 and 2002 the solar balloon festival. He is now getting ready for the one of end 2003. This festival is sponsored by some companies and by the government.
Meanwhile to the balloon, Alejandro and his wife Maxcelia MONTILLA produce shows into inflatable structure. This way they unite the a passion of Maxcelia for la dancing and Alejandro for the balloon and graphic creations.
Tethered human flight
Alejandro Alejandro also made a solar balloon capable to lift human following the advice of Laurent Besset.

Source: Laurent Basset website

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The first solar blimp in Germany is the Lotte, under the direction of Prof. Bernd Kröplin, it is being developed since 1993 at the University of Stuttgart. The remote-controlled airship is 15.6 m long, has a maximum diameter of 4 m, and has a volume of 109 m. The span of the tail is 4.4 m. Since the control and the instruments are placed in the interior of the blimp, no exterior cable is needed. The total mass amounts to 98 kg.
It is driven by a rear propeller with a diameter of 1.7 m, the 1.5 kW motor from one to the top of the airship mounted 7 m 2 large solar generator with 1,123 W maximum power is supplied. In addition, a battery (1 kWh, 20 kg) may be used. The maximum speed is 46 km / h and the maximum altitude 1,000 m.

G. A. Khoury Airship Technology, 2004.

At the 9th Dolomiti Balloon Festival in Toblach / Dobbiaco, South Tyrol, in January 2011 the Solar Jump
Christophe Praturlon website

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Aerocene Foundation