Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Caquot Type R Observation Balloon

Last Type R, USAF National Museum

Tethered balloons allowed World War I observers to see as far as 40 miles behind enemy lines to spot troop movements, chart trench systems, and direct artillery fire. The observation balloon most used by Americans was named for its designer, French engineer Lt. Albert Caquot. The hydrogen-filled balloon could lift two passengers in its basket, along with charting and communications equipment, plus the weight of its mooring cable, to a height of about 4,000 feet in good weather. Normal operations were between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. 

The Observer's View

During WWI, American balloon observers directed artillery fire at targets such as troop concentrations and supply dumps. They noted more than 1,000 enemy airplane sightings, 1,000 instances of military traffic on railroads, and roads and 400 artillery batteries.

Take-Off of an Earlier Design Somewhere on the Western Front
(Modified from original entry)

Caquot balloons were manufactured in great numbers in WWI; nearly 1,000 were made in the United States in 1918–1919. During World War II, the British produced Caquots once again, but in limited numbers. Manufactured in 1944, the balloon displayed at the USAF National Museum is believed to be the only survivor. The British used it for parachute testing and noncombat aerial observation and photography until 1960. The British Ministry of Defense, Royal Aircraft Establishment, presented the Caquot to the museum after it was located with the aid of American and British WWI balloon veterans in 1975. Assisted by the Goodyear Aerospace Corp. of Akron, Ohio, which had produced these balloons during WWI, museum personnel mended and sealed the balloon fabric and prepared it for inflation. It was placed on display in May 1979.

Gas capacity: 32,200 cu. ft.
Length: 92 ft.
Diameter: 32 ft.

Sources: The USAF National Museum, Tony Langley Collection


  1. snoopy would love this!

  2. The infantry hated balloons! The observer had maps, high-power binoculars, and a direct radio link to an artillery battery.

    The line-of-sight to the horizon is roughly the square root of twice the height. At 1000 feet a balloon observer could (in theory) see about 40 miles. Clouds or haze could limit this. Nonetheless, Any movement behind enemy lines could bring shellfire.

    Steve Miller

  3. I have seen photos of Caquots with TWO baskets - but never with an explanatory caption. Are there any experts out there who'd care to comment? For training purposes? To double the number of reports per balloon? Or ...?

  4. By the way, the balloon "taking off" in the last picture (above) isn't a "Type R", but the older and less efficient 'Parseval-Sigsfeld' (after its German designers) type, more commonly known as the 'Drachen' or 'sausage' balloon. Although initially a German design, it was used in the earlier stages of the war by just about every belligerent that used kite balloons. Sorry to be a know-it-all!