Ten days later, another Frenchman, Jacques Charles, launched the first gas balloon flight. He and his partner flew for 150 minutes and traveled 40 kilometers. Gas balloons became more popular than hot-air balloons because they could stay in the air longer and they were easier to control.
In the 1850s, inventors realized that early balloon technology had its limits. A French engineer, Henri Giffard, came up with a concept of “a craft that was lighter than air.” In 1852, he designed the first aircraft by connecting a steam engine to a large propeller. However, aircraft wouldn’t become popular until the gasoline-powered engine was invented in the 1890s.
Gas engines enabled Ferdinand von Zeppelin to design his amazing flying machine, the Zeppelin. Zeppelins featured a 420-foot-long balloon and could carry 50 passengers. Many believed that Zeppelins were the future of airship travel until the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. Thirty-five of the 97 people on board the Hindenburg died when a fire sparked an explosion, causing the hydrogen-filled Zeppelin to burst into flames. The crash was captured on video, and it scared people away from flying on airships. Airplane technology had greatly improved by that time, as planes had become faster, safer, and cheaper to build. So, planes took over, and the time of airships came to an end.