1783: A Duck, a Sheep, and a Rooster Achieve an Aviation “First” in the Skies Above France

September 19, 1783

The Montgolfier brothers launched a duck, a sheep, and a rooster up into the air . . . While this might seem to be either something straight out of a Mother Goose tale or the setup for a bad joke, that is exactly what happened when aviation pioneers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques- Étienne Montgolfier placed those three animals in a hot-air balloon and sent them floating up into the skies above France. 

The Montgolfier brothers used that duck, sheep, and rooster to collectively test the effect of a high-altitude flight on living creatures. These animals, as the first beings to soar that far off the ground in a human-made device, have since joined such luminaries as the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, and Neil Armstrong in the annals of flight history. 

The ascent of those animals in a balloon took place on the grounds of Versailles Palace (in the vicinity of Paris), and this flight was witnessed by King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette as well as a huge and enthusiastic crowd. The balloon, staying aloft for eight minutes, reached a height of about 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) and traveled for about two miles (3.2 kilometers) before landing safely. 

This flight caused such a sensation that the king granted permission for a similar effort with humans on board. That second and equally successful flight took place two months later, when the Montgolfier brothers sent Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes into the air in a balloon that was likewise untethered. 

Image Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the trailblazing 1783 flight of a duck, a sheep, and a rooster is available at https://www.lindahall.org/about/news/scientist-of-the-day/joseph-etienne-montgolfier

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