Sophie Blanchard or Madame Blanchard was the first female aeronaut in history that flew on a balloonist on her own. She was famous not only for what she had gained in her flying career path but also her tragic fate on 6th July 1819.
The development of flying technology
Human always dream about the sky. When looking up in the sky seeing birds fly, we wonder what is up there and how birds can fly. This quickly motivated a group of innovative people in the past to answer the question “how to fly”.
Hot air balloon was among the earliest means of aviation. The year was 1783 and it quickly became a watershed year of hot air balloons. The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne found out that when heated air was collected in light-weight paper or fabric bag, it could rise the bag/paper up. In the same year, Montgolfier brothers made the first public demonstration of their hot air balloon. Some other scholars believed that the finders of heated air theory were the Chinese who invented the sky lantern.
Jean-Pierre Blanchard, husband of Sophie, was interested in flying, too. He had been working on flying designs. Blanchard promoted the flying machine that used oars sailing through the currents, pretty much similar to rowing a boat. But when he saw Motgolfiers’ demonstration, he abandoned his idea and followed the brothers.There Blanchard became a balloonist.
His career as a balloonist started in 1784. On one occasion in 1808, when he was flying through The Hague, Netherlands, he suffered from a heart attack and fell to the ground. Although the fall didn’t deprive him of his life, he never recovered from the wound and trauma. He died in the following year.
Sophie Blanchard as a balloonist after her husband’s death
Prior to the unfortunate accident of her husband, Sophie had learnt about the flying skills on balloon. The title “first female aeronaut” was actually granted to Elizabeth Thible who flew in 1784. But Elizabeth Thible flew with a male partner while Sophie made it on her own.
Sophie and her husband had realized that a female flying would be the public attention which would help them out of bankruptcy. Sophie also enjoyed the thrills of flying through the air. She was nervous on the ground but when she was to hit the sky, she drove her balloon fearlessly.
Sophie Blanchard quickly became a famous name in France. Her outstanding ability to drive balloon and bravery earned her recognition from many rulers.
In 1804, her career path positively changed when Napoleon appointed her to be Chief Air Minister of Ballooning. Sophie’s predecessor, Andre Jacques Garnerin, was dismissed because of his failure in driving balloon during Napolen’s coronation in Paris. This accident caused Napoleon in great embarrassment. Even when Louis XVIII became the new king of France, Sophie was still in the favor of Louis.
Sophie was also an innovative performer when she came up with many ideas to entertain her fans. One of these ideas included the use of fireworks during her performance which finally led to her death.
On the 6th of July, 1819, Sophie was about to make her performance in Tivoli Gardens in Paris. Although many people had warned her about the dangers of using fireworks, she decided to carry out her plan with firework. This performance would be the most impressive in her career path as a balloonist.
When her balloon was rising to the sky, Sophie started her firework performance. But the disaster finally came. The balloon burst into flame and the gas in it was not enough to lift the balloon. It plunged directly to the ground. But the strong blew Sophie and her balloon off Tivoli.
Sophie did everything she could do to slow the balloon down to minimize the damage as much as possible. The balloon finally hit the rooftops in Rue de Provence. Running out of gas, the balloon fell from the rooftops to the ground. When the crowd arrived, Sophie had been already dead.