The Aeronauts

The Aeronauts

Posted on April 24, 2020 in Our World

While researching material for an identity design project, I stumbled upon an article that referenced the movie "The Aeronauts." As is customary when I see anything resembling aviation, I have to take a deep dive to see what it is all about. Needless to say, I watched the flick a few hours later and now here I am giving my synopsis. I believe that aviation geeks will find the movie truly appealing.

The Aeronauts, based on the book by James Glaisher, a scientist, follows his adventures and Amelia Wren, a flamboyant aeronaut who lost her husband in a balloon accident. The pair fought against thunderstorms, hail, rain and wind as they ascend high into the atmosphere beyond heights that no man or woman has previously reached. Their giant gas-filled balloon nicknamed the "Mammoth" departed from London's Vauxhall Gardens and eventually reached 36,000 feet.

Although the flick departs from the book by replacing aeronaut Henry Coxwell with the fictious Amelia Wren, it offers a window into how humans can achieve amazing things through science and exploration when they work together.

In the 1860s, meteorologist James Glaisher who had an obsession with predicting the weather — a science still in its infancy in that era - sought funding for the expedition and convinced Amelia Wren to pilot the balloon.

With his contraptions of thermometers, barometers and hygrometers, Glaisher meticulously recorded the wind, temperature, pressure and humidity until he fell victim to hypoxia. Using pigeons, he periodically sent messages back to earth to illustrate the value of his work and perhaps signalling that all was well on board.

In real life, Glaisher eventually made 28 ascents between 1862 and 1866, recording observations that were crucial to our understanding of weather. He discovered the fact that wind changes speed at different altitudes, and the way raindrops form and gather moisture.

The expedition was fraught with dangers - freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen and a rapid descent on their return to earth amoung others.

Towards the end of the movie, as the balloon crosses a pink-lit sky, Wren speaks the last words: "Look up, the sky lies open." This is aspirational and I believe should be the part of today's learning lessons not only for aeronauts, but for all young professionals looking to leave their mark on earth.

The Amelia Wren character was inspired by female pioneers such as Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator, Margaret Graham, the first British woman to make a solo balloon flight, and aeronaut Sophie Blanchard - the widow of French balloonist Jean-Pierre-Francois Blanchard who died after falling from his balloon in 1809.

The Aeronauts is not solely about meteorology or even a single event, but an amalgamation of many different sites and voyages, according to the movie director Tom Harper.

Even though I studied meteorology decades ago as part of my air traffic management training, it is intriguing to see the origin of this stuff. It also makes for some great teachable moments for the next generation of aviation professionals.

Today meteorologists around the globe derive information from a wide variety of sources including weather radar, unmanned balloons, satellite images, buoys in the ocean and pilot reports.

One final observation is that the desire for flight was so great that it trumped a lot of safety concerns, perhaps because of the many unknowns in the vast "ocean of air" above our heads.

The Aeronauts starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne is available on Amazon Prime Video.

The trailer for 'The Aeronauts'


Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

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