This is the first in a series of 10 technologies integral to the United States military since World War I.
Returning from a U-Boat scouting party. Aerial naval observer coming down from a "Blimp" type balloon after a scouting tour somewhere on the Atlantic Coast. Central News Photo Service., ca. 1918
With the birth of the airplane in 1903, one would think by 1917 the use of observation balloons would have fallen out of fashion; however, just the opposite was true. At the time, using airplanes for photo reconnaissance was still in its infancy, and the results were inaccurate and awkward due to the lack of air-to-ground communication systems. A stationary balloon raised to 4,000 feet allowed observers to track troop movements, direct artillery fire, and chart trenches and supply dumps for up to 40 miles, all while being in constant contact to the ground via telephone.
The most used balloon was designed by Lt. Albert Caquot, and could lift two passengers, charting and communications equipment, and its mooring cable from 1,000 to 4,000 feet. These balloons were credited with more than 1,000 enemy airplane sightings, and 400 artillery batteries during WWI.
Balloon technology is still being used today. In 2009, observation balloons were deployed with high-definition video capabilities to monitor the Afghan elections, and prevent violence during the voting.