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.