The dramatic stories of the early balloonists have been strangely neglected. Their daring initial flights, the first steps on mankind's journey to the Moon and beyond, have featured only rarely in historical studies, and their names have been largely forgotten. This book is an attempt to redress that situation. James Sadler was an extraordinary English pioneer who overcame many obstacles to achieve his dream of flying. Born the son of an Oxford pastry cook in 1753, he defied the constraints of his upbringing to become the first Englishman to build and fly an air balloon. When not flying he applied himself to engine design and the medical uses of gases, and also kept busy as a chemist to the Navy; he designed cannon praised by Nelson and royalty, firearms for the British East India Company and a prototype armoured car. Aged fifty-seven, he became the first person to cross the Bristol Channel by air. Against the vivid backdrop of Georgian England, Mark Davies delves into the complex life of this astonishing adventurer, exploring the ups and the downs of his amazing career. These range from his first ascent to his support of the first Englishwoman to fly, ending with his eventual death in impoverished anonymity. Sadler's biography also encompasses the stories of his fellow aeronauts, be they courageous, inspired, risible or - occasionally - fatal. This fascinating account of the first Englishman to fly is a true homage to our national desire to reach for the skies.