The Atlantic Ocean. The Big Blue Deep. Pilot and balloon system now in Caribou, Maine preparing to launch into manned trans-continental flight, Summer, 2013.
I have been looking at an epic challenge-- one that honestly may prove to be beyond me. I have been looking at it for years, and I've changed my entire life to make it happen. As I write these words, I am in the State of Maine, the jumping-off point for our trans-Atlantic expedition. I moved out of my longtime home, moved across country, and changed my job so I can be here and prepare to fly. Why so much?
It has been a generation since anyone has crossed the Atlantic Ocean from the United States using only helium. In fact, the last person to do it was the great balloonist Colonel Joe Kittinger, in 1984. Decades have passed, and no one has made the crossing from the USA using only helium since.
Nobody has ever made a flight like this, using only toy balloons - in manned flight - across the ocean.
This is very serious; it is the great Atlantic Ocean. Five people have lost their lives attempting to cross these waters in a balloon, and two non-pilots were lost into the oceans flying cluster balloons. I know this, and I work to methodically reduce the risk, so we can have a successful flight for a new generation. I spent months searching for the ideal gondola that I could fly over that tremendous body of water. I needed something that would preserve human life at sea, should I need to ditch into the ocean. After months of searching, I found a perfect, sturdy, rigid, double-hulled proactive lifeboat. This is a serious piece of emergency gear that mariners rely upon to save their lives if their mother ship goes down.
We built a flight harness for this boat, built a load ring -- an epiphany in stainless steel coming from Augsburg Germany. We have completed the test flight of our system: the shakeout flight launched in Leon, Mexico on November 16, 2012. This video shows the first flight and splashdown landing.
Now, in the summer of 2013, I have come to Caribou, Maine. This community has a great tradition of manned trans-continental balloon flight. The last straight-gas flight-- Colonel Kittinger's 1984 flight-- launched from this community.
I hope to have the opportunity to float in the footsteps of the great pilots that have gone before.
While we complete final preparations on-site, we wait for the weather system that will allow us to enter manned flight and embark on an expedition unlike anything that has gone before. I am here, in Maine, with the balloon system-- waiting for the weather to come that will allow me to cross the big blue deep.
One time, in the blue skies of Mexico, I flew a house - Nov 18, 2012
Isn't she beautiful? The team at CasasYes built this beautiful house, which we have flown as an extremely uncommon aircraft! It is actually one of the most unusual aircraft to have ever flown--- a small house, under a towering cluster of helium filled balloons. She was made of steel, aluminum, and plastic as well. We took to the skies, to 8,500 feet in manned flight, in this small house, in the blue skies of Mexico. You can see an in-flight video shot during the flight. More photos in the Telegraph.
To Live an Interesting Life
Am I beyond talking about the silent beauty of this form of flight? Can I stop for now, and talk instead about WHY we do it at all? For the first flight, it was to seek a new adventure, in a new direction-- to find genuine adventure, even in our modern times. Ok, but I've talked about that before. Why do I do it now?
Is there anything to be proven? No; I've never done it to prove anything. I can fly these toy balloons-- in manned flight. It is difficult. Have I ever said that? The balloons are so hard to get to the point that they are flying. Logistics. Organization. Weather; it dropped to 24 degrees during the 5-hour inflation. It was -2 degrees at altitude. Unreasonable drive to cause it all to happen.
Yes, it is all unreasonable. And why? Well, I've said it already, haven't I? To live an interesting life. Oh, and it is an interesting life. Flying this Japanese TV star, for a prime-time program to be viewed by some 15-million viewers in Japan. Flying to 18,000 feet-- in an open wicker basket. It was 24-degrees on the surface, as we inflated for 5 hours. I said that already. But, then-- from there we went up, to altitude, and lived that day in the sky. And why?
To live an interesting life. For me, that's enough. That is the reason now, today, that I fly these systems. To experience the sky-- yes, certainly. But, in the end-- to live a life that is something I will reflect upon, and I myself will find interesting.
(Photo Credit: © The Statesville Record & Landmark / Bethany Fuller)
France! Italy! Crossing The Alps!
Launching into manned flight above the storied mountains of France... with toy balloons!
This is serious topography. The Alps. Hannibal crossed on his way to attack Rome, and he made the crossing with war elephants. I go for a far less hostile reason, though not necessarily with a more practical mode of transportation. His trek was arduous. I yearned for a more serene experience, though I prepared for many possibilities. Am I allowed to admit some trepidation? This is the ALPS! Good luck and good allowed me to launch right in base of the mountains, in Gap/Tallard France. From there, I cast myself into the sky, and I rode the wind. I floated above Earth, in this majestic region, in the country that first hosted manned flight over 225 years ago, with spectacular visions real and imagined. A tower of colorful helium filled balloons carried me into the skies, to destinations unknown and undreamed at launch.
A little balloon, and me. 102.3 miles. 11.9 hours. France. Italy. The Alps. Such great adventure in the open skies.
Success! Landed! These accounts show our Alps crossing:
FLYING A HOUSE!
For National Geographic:
The National Geographic Society has sponsored some of the greatest human expeditions of all time. It is a tremendous honor to see photos of our flight (and my aircraft, the flying house N878UP), graced with that classic logo- the yellow portrait frame that adorned magazine covers so many of us gazed at in wonder throughout our childhood, and throughout our lives. I'm in the window, waving goodbye as we launched the house-- heading to 10,500 feet in manned flight.
Our flying house aired on the NatGeo Channel worldwide.
I couldn't be more proud.
-Jonathan R. Trappe
Bridging the gap between dreams and accomplishment!
"A HOUSE RAISED WITH 300 HELIUM-FILLED BALLOONS. On Saturday morning, March 5, at dawn, a team of scientists, engineers and two world-class balloon pilots" [uh, I suppose they're talking about us] "successfully launched a 16' X 16' house 18' tall with 300 8-foot colored weather balloons from a private airfield east of Los Angeles, and set a new world record for the largest balloon cluster flight ever attempted. The entire experimental aircraft was more than 10 stories high and reached an altitude of over 10,000 feet and flew for approximately one hour.The footage will be part of a new National Geographic Channel series called HOW HARD CAN IT BE?
(Photo Credit: © National Geographic Channel / Stewart Volland)
Celebrating the Bicentennial of Mexico!
Early in the morning on Friday, November 19th, a giant cluster balloon system rose above the city of Leon, Mexico in manned flight. A cluster-balloon pilot took this unique aircraft -- a towering cluster of helium filled balloons -- into the skies, flying a three tier system in colors of the National flag of Mexico:
Green: Esperanza - Hope
White: Unidad - Unity
Red: Sangre de Héroes - The Blood of Heroes
The Eagle Soars:Centered amidst the three-tiers of balloons, among the the colors of the national flag, sat a giant balloon emblazoned with the Great Seal of Mexico! This cell was larger than any other cluster balloon we've ever made. The Great Eagle of Mexico soared proudly into the skies above its native land! The Great Seal of Mexico-- the Great Eagle-- aloft in the blue skies of Mexico!
In honor of the bicentennial, this cluster balloon system has been named "La Independencia" For over 8 hours, pilot Jonathan Trappe was carried aloft, up to 18,000 feet, by the great eagle towards destinations unknown: true adventure, even in our modern times!
See the Full Story
The Oshkosh Cluster: July 29-July 30, 2010
Launching from from one of the great events in Aviation,
traveling across the inland sea known as Lake Michigan
On July 29th, I launched from the airfield of Oshkosh on a journey into the sky that would scrape 15,000 feet, survive the night, cross an inland sea, and make landfall only after the sun had once again returned; this is a journey of which I am extremely proud. [Photo by Marv Hamm]
Among those with a passion for aviation, Oshkosh is special. The event, like our chosen form of flight, is unique. With friends, colleagues, and aviation enthusiasts from around the world, we launched our cluster balloon system above that storied event, embarking on an a 12.5-hour journey that would see the sun set on our cluster system while it still traveled the sky, a three-quarter moon rise while we floated the heavens 2-miles above Lake Michigan, silence in the dead of night when we had over 40 miles to any shore, and a sunrise greeted from the sky as we made landfall again, having rode the winds for 230 miles, traversing the skies for more than 100 miles of open water.
All at the storied event know as Oshkosh, AirVenture, 2010.
More to come. I promise.
Jonathan R. Trappe
The English Channel, Unconquered!International flight of The Channel Cluster above the cold waters of The English Channel;
Balloon aircraft launches in the UK, flies over the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, makes landfall at the Lighthouse at Dunkirk, France. [Full Story]
It is such a classic challenge, isn’t it? That iconic ribbon of water separating the UK from the continent has called to aviators for generations, tempting them to cross since long before you or I were born. Bleriot crossed in 1909. Bryan Allen in 1979. Yves Rossy crossed in 2008.
Yost & Piccard made it; John Jeffries and Blanchard floated though the air above that tiny arm of the Atlantic earlier than anyone.
And here it is, the English Channel, continuing to call to us. Perhaps it is a siren’s song, or perhaps crossing that ribbon of water is like breaking the ribbon at the finish line. Either way, there is an adventure to be had. Yes, for us, today, there is genuine adventure, even in our modern times.
On May 28th, 2010 Trappe crossed the English Channel– floating in complete silence from the UK to the continent under a giant cluster of toy balloons.
After the flight, Trappe was asked by a reporter what it felt like to have conquered the channel. “No,” he replied. “No, this is not correct. We have not conquered the channel. We have only had the honor to float in the skies above the cold waters for one quiet day. Today and forever, the English Channel remains unconquered.”
See the [Full Story]
Spirit Soars!Success in the Quiet Skies: 'The Spirit Cluster' ascends, flies through the night! [Full Story]
In early April, 2010 we completed a full-scale cluster balloon flight as I attached 57 balloons to a small harness and floated into the skies above North Carolina. After personally sampling the winds up to 7,500 feet, I verified that the weather forecasts were indeed correct, and I made the decision to attempt to survive the night.
I deployed my night aviation lights, and floated into the quiet skies. The sun set, and I wouldn't touch the earth for another dozen hours. With permission from air traffic controllers, I floated into the skies above my home city of Raleigh; working with the RDU tower controller (who helped maintain safe separation from other aircraft) I floated about a mile above my city before the winds shifted and carried me back to the countryside.
I flew for 14 hours non-stop, through the dark of the night, and welcomed the sunrise from the sky. Can you imagine, seeing the sunrise while floating a mile high in complete silence? It was indescribably beautiful.
It was also a very welcome sight; it had been below freezing through the night, and I was very grateful for the return of the sun. It also meant that we had made it through the night.
Thank-you to my dedicated crew, the Wings of Carolina Flying Club, the Sanford Lee-County Airport, and the air traffic controllers at RDU airport. Thank you to our friends at the Experimental Aircraft Association; The Spirit of Aviation is alive! This is a unique form of flight, and it was a tremendous pleasure to share the skies.
Jonathan R. Trappe - See the [Full Story]
Life Inspires Art! Flying Armchair goes "UP!" [Full Story]
In the Disney Pixar film 'UP!' Carl Fredricksen (the 78 year old retired balloon salesman and active dreamer) attaches hundreds of balloons to his house, and floats off into the skies. This Pixar fantasy flight bears a remarkable resemblance to the cluster balloon systems we fly in real life. They fly a house, we fly a pilot!
In fact, when you see the film you will notice that Carl Fredricksen has a favorite chair-- a comfy old red armchair that he relaxes in after his house takes to the skies. Well, we have built a real-world flying armchair based on this design. Disney/Pixar provided us full digital rotations of Carl's chair, and we created it in the real world to fly under an amazing 5-story cluster of helium balloons. Perhaps the flying chair is Carl's early design prototype: first the chair, then the house!
What a great time to be a cluster balloonist! This #1 film creates a great opportunity to delight festival and airshow audiences by hosting a real world cluster balloon flight. The film tells a truly delightful story, and connects with audiences around the world. If you run an event, and would like to send a cluster system aloft, please see the Appearances page so we can go UP!
FAA Licensed pilot rated to fly hot-air and gas balloons. All flights flown in strict compliance with all Federal Aviation Regulations.
Americas Challenge: 68 hours, 46 minutes aloft! [Full Story]
AMERICA'S CHALLENGE: Successful launch of long-distance manned helium balloon from Albuquerque, New Mexico! Flight of "Rainbow in the Dark" sets new America's Challenge race duration record, claims 2nd place in distance race!
Balloon flight out of Albuquerque New Mexico piloted 1,214 miles over New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska before crossing the Missouri river and descending for landing in Iowa!
Flight details in full debrief page!
Blueberry Cluster Flies the Indiana Skies! [Full Story]
For almost 10 hours on August 31st 2008, the skies over Indiana played host to a giant 'Blueberry Cluster' of 38 helium balloons, piloted by Jonathan Trappe. Thanks to the Marshall County Hot Air Affair, the Blueberry cluster achieved an altitude of 17,930 feet-- a personal record for Mr. Trappe, and within throwing distance of the World Record. Trappe stayed below 18,000 feet to maintain strict compliance with FAA regulations for this type of flight.
The launch could not have happened without the wonderful volunteers who arose in the early pre-light hours in order to meet at the field at 4:00 am. [ ! ]Thank you all very much; we sincerely appreciate it. Special thanks goes out to the flight's two main sponsors: the helium provider All American Welding and the overall event sponsor the Marshall County Hot Air Affair! It was the MCHAA Board members that made the flight happen. Jim, Ron, Cecil: thank you for the wonderful opportunity to fly in Plymouth.
Additional Accounts: The South Bend Tribune
IMPORTANT: This flight was piloted by an FAA Certified pilot carrying appropriate safety and emergency equipment (transponder, aircraft radios, parachute, oxygen, etc.) Local and regional FAA air-traffic controllers were appropriately notified and the entire flight operated in strict compliance with all Federal Aviation Regulations. DO NOT attempt any ballooning activity without training from an FAA qualified instructor. Your life, and and the lives of those we share the sky with, depends on it.
"Chairway To Heaven" ascends over North Carolina! [Full Story]
Early in the morning of June 7th, from an airfield in Franklin County North Carolina, Jonathan Trappe launched his standard, unmodified office chair under a cluster of 55 helium balloons, and took to the skies!
The 4-hour flight attainted an altitude approaching 15,000 feet and covered a ground track of approximately 50 miles. The flight was equipped with a transponder, aircraft radio, parachute and a high-altitude oxygen system; the entire flight was conducted in full compliance with all Federal Aviation Regulations-- and was a tremendous success!
Please join us to relive the flight!