A balloon is a type of aerostat that remains aloft due to its buoyancy. A balloon travels by moving with the wind. It is distinct from an airship, which is a buoyant aircraft that can be propelled through the air in a controlled manner.
The “basket” or capsule that is suspended by cables beneath a balloon and carries people, animals, or automatic equipment (including cameras and telescopes, and flight-control mechanisms) may also be called the gondola.
Unmanned hot air balloons are popular in Chinese history. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, in the Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD) used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known as Kongming lanterns (孔明灯).
There is also some speculation, from a demonstration led by British modern hot air balloonist Julian Nott in the late 1970s and again in 2003, that hot air balloons could have been used by people of the Nazca culture of Perusome 1500 to 2000 years ago, as a tool for designing the famous Nazca ground figures and lines.
In 1709 Brazilian cleric Bartolomeu de Gusmão made a balloon filled with heated air rise inside a room in Lisbon. He also built a balloon named Passarola (Big bird) and attempted to lift himself from Saint George Castle in Lisbon, but only managed to harmlessly fall about one kilometer away. This claim is not generally recognized by aviation historians outside the Portuguese speaking community, in particular the FAI.