During the Cold War, espionage balloons launched by the "Free world" had a secondary psychological warfare capability, carrying propaganda pamphlets and consumer goods (which were supposedly not freely available inside Communist states) that would be released or otherwise delivered onto enemy territories.
The advent of spy satellites, coupled with the end of the Cold War, have rendered espionage balloons obsolete.
The history of ballooning, both with hot air and gas, spans many centuries. It includes many firsts, including the first human flight, first flight across the English Channel, first flight in North America, and first aircraft related disaster.History of military ballooning
Balloons were one of the first mechanisms used in air warfare. Their role was originally mainly for reconnaissance purposes. They provided humans with the first available method of elevating themselves well over the battlefield to obtain the proverbial "birds-eye view." They were an early instrument of definitive intelligence collection, and were also particularly useful in the preparation of accurate battlefield maps, before which time this rudimentary craft had led to many a battlefield failure. Incendiary balloons also have a long history.Hot air balloon
A hot air balloon is a lighter-than-air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket (in some long-distance or high-altitude balloons, a capsule), which carries passengers and a source of heat, in most cases an open flame caused by burning liquid propane. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the colder air outside the envelope. As with all aircraft, hot air balloons cannot fly beyond the atmosphere. Unlike gas balloons, the envelope does not have to be sealed at the bottom, since the air near the bottom of the envelope is at the same pressure as the surrounding air. In modern sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric and the inlet of the balloon (closest to the burner flame) is made from a fire resistant material such as Nomex. Modern balloons have been made in all kinds of shapes, such as rocket ships and the shapes of various commercial products, though the traditional shape is used for most non-commercial, and many commercial, applications.
The hot air balloon is the first successful human-carrying flight technology. The first untethered manned hot air balloon flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes on November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, in a balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers. The first hot-air balloon flown in the Americas was launched from the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia on January 9, 1793 by the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard. Hot air balloons that can be propelled through the air rather than simply drifting with the wind are known as thermal airships.List of balloon uses
This is a list of uses of balloons
small (volume of a few litres)
balloon mail as part of a balloon flight competition or to spread information
balloon rocket, demonstration of rocket propulsion
decoys accompanying ICBMs in midcourse, see also countermeasure
A vessel for storing nitrous oxide prior to inhalation for use as a recreational drug
medium (volume of tens to thousands of litres)
fire balloon for the transport of bombs (in World War II, FUGO-Balloon)
transport of propaganda (in World War II and in the Cold War)
weather balloon used with a radiosonde
for carrying advertising signs
to carry a radio antenna
balloon tires, for vehicles that require low ground pressures
large (volume up to 12,000,000 litres)
lifting people, or daring prison escapes, usually with a hot air balloon, Rozière balloon or a gas balloon
airship, a steerable balloon
hybrid airship, which combines characteristics of heavier-than-air (HTA) technology, fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter, and lighter-than-air (LTA), aerostat technology.
research balloon with instrumentation, also to carry telescopes
rockoon, a carrier for rockets.
balloon satellite for space research.
espionage balloon for military reconnaissance
as manned observation post (before World War II)
observation balloon for military reconnaissance
positioning atomic bombs for bomb tests in the atmosphere