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Sophie Blanchard
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Aviator
    (March 25, 1778-July 6, 1819)
    Born in Trois-Canons, France
    Birth name was Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant
    Married ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard
    First woman to work as a professional balloonist
    During a show at the Tivoli Gardens in Paris, her hydrogen balloon caught fire
    During the descent, the basket of the balloon struck the roof of a house, causing her to fall to the street and die of a broken neck
    She is often erroneously described as the first woman to fly in a balloon. (A group of three women ascended in a tethered balloon twenty years before Blanchard's first flight.)
    Although fearless in the air, she was terrified of riding in carriages.
    She once mistook a marshy field for a safe landing spot and almost drowned (September 21, 1817).
    She allegedly drew up plans for Napoleon for a balloon-borne invasion of England.
    She regularly shot off fireworks from a hydrogen-filled balloon, a combination that eventually produced a fatal accident.
    After her death, an appeal for donations to support her children raised 2,400 francs before it was discovered that she had no surviving children. (About half the money was used for a monument to her in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the rest was donated to a church she had attended.)
    She described her first balloon flight as 'an incomparable sensation.'
    Her financially incompetent husband saddled her with large debts that she managed to work off.
    During a flight over the Alps, the temperature dropped so low icicles formed on her face and hands (1812).
    She was a favorite of both Napoleon and his successor Louis XVIII, who each gave her official titles.
    She was mentioned in Jules Verne's 'Six Weeks in a Balloon.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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