Balloons and Airships – A Tale of Lighter Than Air Aviation, Anthony Burton

Balloons and Airships – A Tale of Lighter Than Air Aviation, Anthony Burton

The story of manned flight began in 1783 with the first flights in the Mongolfier’s Brothers hot air balloons. Over the next couple of centuries the hot air balloon, gas balloon and airship achieved many key ‘firsts’ in aviation history, including long distance flights (only just missing out on the first flight across the Atlantic), voyages of exploration and the first passenger airline (Germany’s DELAG, which operated Zeppelins from 1910-14. This book looks at the brave (and sometimes foolish) men and women who were responsible for all of this,

From a military history point of view two chapters cover warfare. The first looks at the use of the balloon, which achieved most fame for its role in the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Un-tethered balloons were used to carry news, mail and key individuals out of Paris, although the lack of any way to steer the balloon did limit their use. The balloon was also used as an observation aircraft during the American Civil War, but then rather fell out of favour. The second looks at the airship during the First World War, when they were used by most of the major combatants, not only the Germans. The most interesting feature of this chapter for me is the examination of the airship in other countries apart from Germany – this section contains new material for me. However there is also one big gap in this chapter – the First World War saw the widespread use of observation balloons, and many air battles were fought around the balloons.

We finish with a look at the post-war revival of ballooning, and in particular the emergence of hot air ballooning as a leisure activity. There is also a brief examination of current attempts to revive the airship, although currently these do appear to be based on wishful thinking – most available photographs showing Lockheed Martin’s current airship are artistic renderings, while the Airlander 10 suffered an embarrassing crash on its second test flight, and has since been retired.

This is a very entertaining book, covering a key period in the development of manned flight, and even if it doesn’t have a massive amount of directly military material is still of great interest.


1 – Taking to the Air
2 – Manned Flight
3 – Balloon Mania
4 – Coming of Age
5 – Balloons go to War
6 – Experiments and Expeditions
7 – Powered Flight
8 – The Zeppelin
9 – Spreading the Word
10 – Airships at War
11 – Airships in Peacetime
12 – The Polar Flights
13 – Flying the Atlantic
14 – The End of an Era
15 – A New Beginning

Author: Anthony Burton
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2019

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