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.