World Record Hot Air Balloonist

The first manned flight by hot-air balloon was executed in Paris in 1783—making it the oldest flight technology to successfully carry humans.

Throughout the world, one can find fervent enthusiasts and lively international festivals celebrating the joy and romance of this first aircraft. Among those is New Zealand’s Balloons over Waikato, a festival held every year over the lakes of Hamilton from sunrise until the ZURU Nightglow, when the balloons are illuminated as music is performed. The festival closes with a fireworks display (after the balloons have landed, of course).

Avid balloonists have unique rituals, most notably the tradition that each time a hot-air balloon lands, champagne is shared. The story goes that when hot-air balloons were first being tested, farmers believed that they were strange creatures or aliens descending from the skies and landing in their fields. To allay those fears, hot-air balloon pilots would share a bottle with the farmers.

But nobody in the history of ballooning—from its French inventors to billionaire Richard Branson, who crossed the Atlantic in the vessel—deserve that champagne toast more than an Iowan named Emma Carroll. The oldest successful human to fly the oldest successful human-carrying technology, Emma made a buoyant hour-long flight over her home state in 2004, when she was 109 years old.

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