Feature Spy In The Sky

Learn more about using balloons as weapons.

Spy In The Sky

More from Gwen on balloons as weapons.

A spy in the sky during the Civil War, the hot air balloon had become a full-fledged weapon by World War I.

Throughout 1915, bombs from German Zeppelins rained down on London and other cities too.

By 1916, British fighter planes had targeted the Achilles heel of the Zeppelin -- the hydrogen gas which filled the blimps.

The Golden Age of the airship came to a tragic close on May 6, 1937. Just as the Hindenburg was ending its journey from Germany, it exploded over an airstrip in New Jersey, killing 36 of its passengers and crew.

During World War II, the balloon made a little-known comeback as a weapon of warfare, causing the only fatalities on U.S. soil as a direct result of enemy action.

Over a five-month period beginning in November 1944, the Japanese launched some 9,000 unmanned hydrogen balloons.

Each one carried small bombs.

Most disappeared over the Pacific, but on May 5, 1945, six picnickers in Oregon were killed with the explosion of a balloon they dragged from the woods.

The balloon has long since been eclipsed by more potent weapons of war.

It has quietly returned to its original use: pleasant leisure time activity.