Bristol Belle launches from Ark Royal


Terry Adams has enjoyed an illustrious career in ballooning but before that he was a dashing young Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and surely his most memorable flight was in G-AVTL Bristol Belle from the deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal on 29 November 1970.

The story is told in Trailrope #129 (Winter 2022)  but after several false starts Adams ‘commanded’ the carrier to steam towards the island from the west and after a tricky launch he successfully landed on Malta – the first ever balloon to do so.

After a drop of champagne, Terry cadged a lift to the Post Office and franked 4,000 flight covers , one of which is safely stored in the museum library.


Balloon takes telescope to 81,000ft to view Venus

On 28 November 1959 the Stratolab IV balloon ascended to 81,000 feet with a 16 inch Schmidt infra red telescope attached to the top of the gondola. The 2 million cu.ft. balloon was made of polyethylene.

Inside were pilots Malcolm Ross and Charles Moore who used the telescope to perform spectrograph analysis of the water vapour in the atmosphere of Venus thus demonstrating that an observatory can be taken aloft.

Charles Moore is remembered for making the first manned flight beneath a polyethylene balloon on 3 November 1949.  Malcolm Ross flew all five flights of the Stratolab programme  and went on to pilot more high altitude balloon flights to to accomplish research required for the manned rocket program to follow.



World altitude record hot air balloons

On 26 November 2005 Dr.Vijaypat Singhania broke the world altitude recode for hot air balloons after reaching 68,986 feet in Mumbai, India.

Cameron Balloons built him a 1.6 million cu ft balloon and he  flew in a sophisticated pressurized gondola built by Andy Elson and the Flying Pictures engineering team in Glastonbury, England.

The unusual burners used kerosene rather than the more conventional propane fuel. After landing the balloon envelope was released and then flew on its own for a further eight hours before landing. It was later found near a village, the burner had been stripped and much of the envelope was missing!



21st November is Montgolfier Day

All over the world, 21st November is the day balloonists celebrate the anniversary of the first free flight with human beings.

In 1783 in Paris, France, the famous Montgolfier balloon took off from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne in the presence of the King. The balloon was designed and built by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that two condemned criminals would be the first passengers, and if they survived they would be pardoned. But Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, (a chemistry and physics teacher) along with the Marquis François Laurent d’Arlandes (a French military officer), successfully persuaded the King to let them go up instead.

The fifty feet high, highly decorated envelope had a smoky fire slung under the neck of the balloon suspended in an iron basket. It was controllable and supposed to be constantly replenished by the balloonists who were in the balcony around the neck of the balloon. But Marquis François Laurent d’Arlandes was absolutely terrified for the whole flight, and often did not hear Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier yelling at him from the other side of the balloon to put more straw on the fire.

In 25 minutes the two men travelled just over five miles. Enough fuel (hay or straw) remained on board at the end of the flight to have allowed the balloon to fly four to five times as far, but burning embers from the fire threatened to engulf the balloon and the men decided to land as soon as they were over open countryside. The pioneering work of the Montgolfier brothers in developing the hot air balloon was recognised by this type of balloon being named Montgolfière after them.

Parachute from balloon

It was on this day 16 November 1959 that American balloonist Joe Kittinger made the first high altitude jump.  As part of the Execlsior 1 test programme they wanted to test the first ‘space suit’ and because there wasn’t a plane that could fly that high an enormous balloon took Kittinger to 76,400 feet from where he jumped.

He landed safely and the next year he jumped from 102,800ft – a record which stood until Felix Baumgartner jumped from 128,000ft in 2012 and his record was broken by Google executive Alan Eustace in 2014 by parachuting from 135,890ft. ( Story in WIRED magazine)

Joe Kittinger triumphed again in 1984 by becoming the first pilot to fly a balloon solo across the Atlantic.  He died aged 94.

First manned balloon across the Pacific.


As the crew of Double Eagle V crossed the Californian coast at 9pm on 12 November 1981 they had already been in the air for 82 hours since leaving Nagashima in Japan at 3am.

The picture shows them at 15,000ft floating past Mt. Fuji hoping for 26,000ft – an altitude that they failed to reach.  Once east of Japan at 19,000ft they accumulated ice on top of the balloon which plagued them throughout the flight, the extra weight dictating altitudes which resulted in average speeds of 68mph.

They were not always able to follow their meteorologist’s advice because of  ballast limitations but they did reach 17,000ft east of Hawaii and 100mph. At 2am on November 12 they crossed the international date line and thus turned the calendar back one day.

A long period of nearly level flight conserved precious ballast, indicating the ice had not punctured the enormous polyethylene balloon 4.5 millionths of an inch thick, but speed a disappointing 43 mph.

Ben Abruzzo was captain and Larry Newman co-captain and radio navigator – both veterans of the first balloon across the Atlantic in 1978 . Ron Clark and Rocky Aoki were the other two pilots.  They spent four days and five nights in their capsule and survived on an austere but nourishing diet of oranges, energy bars, dried beef and peanut butter sandwiches.  Half way through the flight chef Rocky treated them to a sumptuous feast of fresh beef, noodles and vegetable cooked on the little propane stove.

The first approach to land in torrential rain took them towards houses so they dropped all the ballast within reach and climbed back into cloud.  The next descent ended with a ‘massive jolt’ on a shrub-covered hillside and Abruzzo fired the explosive bolts to jettison the balloon. They were down after 5,768 miles – a new world’s distance record.

First Hot Air Balloon across the English Channel

On April 13, 1963, pilots Ed Yost and Don Piccard launched the 60,000 cubic foot hot air balloon “Channel Champ” from the village of Rye, England. Three hours and seventeen minutes later Yost landed the aircraft near Gravelines, France completing the historic voyage. Newspaper headlines around the world proclaimed their success the next day and effectively introduced the hot air balloon to the world.

The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate the range and endurance of Yost’s new aircraft. Yost is recognized as the ‘Father of the Modern Hot Air Balloon’ based on his work at Raven Industries with the Office of Naval Research to create an aircraft that would carry one man and enough fuel to fly for at least 3 hours, carry a load to 10,000 feet and be reusable and require a minimum crew to launch.

The Channel Champ was a further refinement of Yost’s first models. None of those balloons remain today making the Channel Champ an undeniably historic aircraft.

During the flight Yost and Piccard sat on a simple “board” between two 30-gallon propane tanks. The tiny one can burner produced a mere 2-million BTUs (today’s modern hot air balloon burners will produce 11-20 million BTUs). The balloon had no top vent, instead the top was simply gathered together, tied with nylon cord and fixed with an explosive squib that, when fired after landing, would allow the balloon to rapidly deflate.During the flight Yost was forced to climb to an altitude of 13,500 feet to find favourable winds that would carry them across the Channel and into France.

Ironically the Channel Champ was almost lost to history. The famous “board” has been on display for many years at the Forbes’ family balloon museum in Balleroi, France but the envelope was thought to have been destroyed or lost until a retired Raven Industries employee contacted Yost saying he believed he had the historic envelope, having taken it home years before when it was being discarded. An inspection proved the envelope was the historic balloon and it was later reunited with the “board.”

After some minor restoration the balloon was inflated for the last time at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October 2005. It has now been moved to its new home, the National Balloon Museum in Indianola. Iowa also home of the Balloon Federation of America.

During the ceremonies Yost regaled the appreciative audience with stories from the flight including an admission that he was “scared to death” not by the flight, but by the ride with French police back into Paris where a ceremony was staged for himself and Don Piccard.

A 20-minute movie of the famous flight pieced together from Piccard’s original films was also shown to the crowd after which Yost posed for pictures and signed autographs.

More information:,

Don Piccard b.1926 – d.2020.

In 1957, on 18th September Don Piccard flew the first plastic Pleiades, a cluster of small balloons, based upon a design of his father’s, Jean-Felix Piccard, from Valley Forge to Spring Garden Pennsylvania USA. It cost $800 to make and fly.

The 1957 Pleiades flight was the first ever plastic balloon multi celled (Pleiades) flight. Charles Moore made the first manned plastic balloon flight in a single cell polyethylene balloon. Jean Piccard flew the first successful plastic balloon in 1936, it was Cellophane. He also made the first manned multi-celled balloon flight, the Pleiades, using 98 rubber balloons in 1937.

As a balloon rises, gases within the envelope expand, increasing volume as the atmospheric pressure outside decreases. The frost free window and the plastic balloon inventions were by Jean Piccard. The Bathyscaph was a co-invention of the twins, Jean and Auguste, when they were students in 1905, but was built by Auguste after WWII.

For his plastic Pleiades flight, Don’s solo gondola was made by Mike Schonfeld and himself in the Aero Engineering Lab at the University of Minnesota. The surplus US Navy balloon used city gas for buoyancy, not for fuel. A hot air balloon could burn it to create heat for lift, but the tanks for compressed gas would be very heavy. So hot air balloons use liquid propane and vaporize it to burn.

Don Piccard represents three generations of Piccards whose lives have centred on research and sport ballooning. In 1947 Piccard made his first solo balloon flight and became the first FAA certified pilot.

The Piccards are an amazing record breaking family;

Jules Piccard (professor of chemistry) 1840-1933

Auguste Piccard (physicist, aeronaut, balloonist, hydronaut) 1884-1962

Jacques Piccard (hydronaut) 1922-2008

Bertrand Piccard (aeronaut, balloonist) 1958 –

Jean Felix Piccard (organic chemist, aeronaut, and balloonist) 1884 – 1963

Jeannette Piccard (wife of Jean Felix) (aeronaut and balloonist) 1885 – 1981

Don Piccard (balloonist) 1926 –

Don Piccard was a Vice President of the British Balloon Museum & Library almost since its inception.

1709 – First demonstration of a model hot air balloon

Just after breakfast on August 8th, 1709, a 24 year old Priest, Bartolomeu de Gusmão from Brazil, demonstrated the first model balloon to King John V of Portugal.

It was Gusmao’s third attempt, as he had nearly set the palace alight 4 days before. He wore his best black cassock, as he had burned his two others experimenting.

On the patio of the House of India in Lisbon, before the King, loads of royalty, nobles and ladies of the Court and a few others, he set fire to the fuel within an earthenware container slung below the balloon.

It worked perfectly, it went up in the air, the flame went out, so it came down. The King was madly impressed, made him a Canon and granting the right of any and all flying ships to Gusmão from then on… and, for all those who dared to intervene or to copy his ideas, the penalty would be ‘death’.

Gusmao wanted to build a machine to fly people. His design was a balloon in the form of a bird with a tail and wings and a boat underneath. The invention was called ‘Passarola’, because of its resemblance to a bird. It was filled with numerous tubes, through which the wind would flow and fill out the bulges to give it shape. A model of his design is in the Museo Nacional Aeronáutico y del Espacio de Chile.

Sadly, after King John V died, the commoners didn’t trust all this hocus pocus and reported Gusmao to the Portuguese Inquisition as a wizard.

The Inquisition was a powerful office set up within the Catholic Church to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and the Americas. Beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, the Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures and its persecution of Jews and Muslims and anything such as heresy, wizardry or magic.

Gusmao, who was terrified of the Inquisition, took the advice of his friends, burned his manuscripts, disguised himself, and fled to Spain, where he died in a hospital.

First Flight at South Pole

On 8th January 2000, the first ever hot air balloon flight at the South Pole took place. Ivan André Trifonov, an Austrian balloon pilot, flew 14,934m (49,000ft) over the geographic South Pole Antarctica at an altitude of 4,571m (15,000ft) with his two Spanish crew members. The Aircraft was Mil 2000, a Cameron AX 66- EC-HDB hot air balloon carrying the flags of the Antarctic Treaty nations which are usually flown around the ceremonial South Pole.

Ivan Andre Trifinov balloon pilot and adventurer said “I had a Tarot card reading (one possible way to look in the future, if you believe) analysed by my polar friend Matthias Wölfle showed a positive trend for my personal participation and I took this as a good omen. With a diabolical willpower I mobilised all possible ways of organising the necessary finances. I also worked long hours on my balloon construction to reduce the total take-off weight to 140 kg and to minimise my costs. Through a big sponsorship help of the mobile telephone company “max.mobil” and a large part of my own money the financial situation was eventually resolved and I did it.”

Snow Bugs were used for the transport.

The “Snow Bugs” are remarkable vehicles with 6 large inflated tyres which give a very light footprint on the snow and are ideal for soft snow or areas with crevasses. Only the middle pair of wheels are normally used for drive although 4 wheels have drive-shafts fitted.

During the journey to the pole all 14 replacement gear boxes had to be used. They used 3 different engines with the Volvo being more reliable than the Volkswagen and Minsk engines.

The four “Snow Bugs” finally arrived at the South Pole late on the 7th of January 2000. Just in time, and before the launch the next day the “Snow Bugs” demonstrated their light footprint by running over some American volunteers. A feat which resulted in great applause from those watching (but probably scared the hell out of the volunteers)!

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