If, for the sake of argument, we disregard the activities of those misguided chaps who long ago coated themselves with feathers, jumped off the nearest cliff, and went down in panic rather than in history, then man's first genuine flight was in a hot-air balloon.
The date was the 21st of November, 1783. The place was Paris. And the two men who made aeronautical history were the Marquis D'Ariandes and Pilatre de Rozier.
Flying that first balloon, built by the Montgolfier brothers, required constant stoking of a brazier to maintain an adequate flow of heated air into the huge bag of linen-paper above the heads of the aeronauts. It is said that as the flight over Paris progressed the Marquis paused in his stoking to admire the River Seine beneath them, at which point his colleague admonished: 'If you look at the river in that fashion you will be likely to bathe in it soon. Some fire, my dear friend, some fire!'
Fame was to be short-lived for the hot-air balloon.
Only 11 days after that historic first flight a balloon was demonstrated that used hydrogen gas as its lifting medium. This was a much simpler device and for two centuries the hot-air balloon drifted into obscurity. It was resurrected in the late 1950's when the US Government built a hot-air balloon as part of a research project. Modern man-made fabrics and bottled liquid petroleum gas were more practical and longer lasting than the materials used to construct the bag and produce the heat in the Montgoifier original. The hot-air balloon was reborn, and today outnumbers its hydrogen (and helium) gas-filled cousins by 500 to 1.