The first hot-air balloons drew huge crowds, inspiring onlookers to cry, laugh, even faint. One witness wrote, "Since these exhibitions, there seems to prevail a kind of aerial phrenzy among us. The term'balloon' is not only in the mouth of everyone, but all our world seems to be in the clouds." For some, the new invention was the culmination of Enlightenment science, the pinnacle of human ingenuity. Grand schemes abounded: using balloons to carry mail, to improve cartography, to bombard enemy fortifications.
Residents of a southern California city had a bit of an aircraft scare Tuesday, but not with airplanes or helicopters. Instead, people in Yucaipa, California, were afraid that two hot air balloons would collide with their homes or other buildings as they flew dangerously close to the ground, CBS Los Angeles reported.
Stratospheric balloons are a low-cost way to get above 99% of the atmosphere. Payloads lifted that high have wide views of Earth and clear views of the stars. For decades, NASA has launched a handful of stratospheric balloons every year. Although they float for months, they drift at constant altitudes. Now, upstart commercial companies like World View are launching smaller balloons that can remain in place by surfing stratospheric winds.
Agents in Texas recently finished a 30-day trial of the camera-toting, helium-filled balloon made by Drone Aviation Holding Corp., a small startup that named former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar to its board of directors in January. The 3-year-old, money-losing company gave Aguilar stock options that may prove lucrative if it gets more orders for its proprietary model. The trial comes as agents test hand-launched drones, which are relatively inexpensive but hampered by short battery life and weight limits. The Border Patrol has also used six large tethered balloons in Texas since 2012, acquired from the Defense Department. President Trump has pledged to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents, but hiring has been slow.