Sophie Blanchard was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist. She entertained Napoleon Bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of ‘Aeronaut of the Official Festivals’ In 1819, she became the first women to be killed in an aviation accident. She died when her craft crashed on the roof of a house and she fell to her death.
About Sophie Blanchard in brief
Sophie Blanchard was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist. She entertained Napoleon Bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of ‘Aeronaut of the Official Festivals’ In 1819, she became the first women to be killed in an aviation accident when she launched fireworks that ignited the gas in her balloon. She died when her craft crashed on the roof of a house and she fell to her death. She was born Marie Madeleine-Sophia Armant to Protestant parents at Trois-Canons, near La Rochelle. Little is known of her life before her marriage to Jean-Pierre Blanchards, the world’s first professional ballooner. She made her first ascent in a balloon in Marseilles on 27 December 1804. She and her husband were in an accident on a joint flight in 1807, in which they crashed and he sustained a head injury. The shock apparently left her mute for a while. After his death in 1809, Sophie continued to make ascents, often staying aloft in night flights. She conducted experiments with parachutes as her husband had, and dropped fireworks from her balloon, and as part of her entertainments she launched pyrotechnics from small baskets attached to small parachutes. Other aeronauts were given some names for themselves by demonstrating parachute jumps from the baskets of balloons, in particular André-Jacques Garnerin, whose daughter and niece all performed regularly with her. His niece Élisa Garnerin was a rival as a female aeronaut and may have given some demonstrations by making one or other of the other parachutes for herself or one of her other ballooning friends.
She also performed for Louis XVIII, who named her ‘Official Aeronauts of the Restoration’ in 1814. She later died in poverty, having abandoned her ballooning career to live with her husband and their four children. She is buried in the Chateau de Chantilly, near Paris, where she was buried with her first husband, Jean- Pierre Blanchars, and their three children, including a son and two daughters. Her husband had abandoned his first wife, Victoire Lebrun, and his four children to travel round Europe pursuing his ballooned career, and she later died. She described the feeling as an ‘incomparable sensation’ She was more at home in the sky than on the ground, where her nervous disposition meant she was easily startled. In 1805, she flew solo from the garden of the Cloister of the Jacobins in Toulouse, and for her third ascent on 18 August 1805,. She was not the first female balloonist to ascend in an untethered balloon, although the honour actually belonged to Elizabeth Thible, an opera singer, who had made an ascent to entertain Gustav III of Sweden in Lyon on 4 June 1784, fourteen years before Citoyenne Henri. She was, however, the firstWoman to pilot her own balloon and the first to adopt ballooning as a career.