American IT Manager Forced To End Cross-Atlantic Cluster Balloon Flight
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In what may have looked like a scene from the Disney-Pixar animated movie “Up,” a North Carolina native man lifted off from a foggy field in Caribou, Maine on Thursday morning, September 12 for a cross-Atlantic flight in a lifeboat carried only by a cluster of helium-filled balloons.
Jonathan Trappe, 39, an IT manager and long-time balloon enthusiast, enlisted the help of some 150 volunteers to fill more than 350 balloons with helium, beginning late Wednesday evening. By sunrise the following morning, Trappe, suspended only by his balloons, lifted off for his adventure across the Atlantic in hopes of becoming the first person to make the trek using a cluster balloon system.
However, Trappe’s 2,500-mile, six-day adventure would never come to fruition, as it was reported that he was forced to abandon the mission over Newfoundland due to technical problems less than a day after lift-off.
“Sadly Jonathan has been forced to abandon his quest early after experiencing technical difficulties over Newfoundland. However, we are happy to report he is safe and well,” read an online post on the “Up Across The Atlantic” Tumblr page.
Trappe also confirmed on his Facebook page Thursday evening that he “landed safe at an alternate location,” ending the flight prematurely.
According to the BBC, Trappe had spent months waiting for the right wind conditions to carry him across the Atlantic. Minutes before lifting off, he maintained that weather was the “most dangerous factor,” potentially ruining the attempt or even endangering his life.
Trappe noted that he chose a life boat as his travel vessel in case he had to make a water landing. About three hours before having to make the unexpected landing, Trappe posted a message to his Facebook page saying, “In the quiet sky, above the great Gulf of St. Lawrence, traveling over 50mph – in my little yellow rowboat, at 18,000 feet.”
YEARS OF PLANNING
Trappe had relied on weather data monitoring from the same meteorologist, Joe Kittinger, who had advised daredevil extraordinaire Felix Baumgartner during his record-breaking freefall from the edge of space last year.
Trappe said before taking off Thursday morning that preparation for this journey took “two years of work and years more of dreams.”
On his website, Trappe explained his hopes and dreams and the dangers of such a mission:
“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 left my longtime home, came across country, and worked with my company so I can be here and prepare to fly.”
“Why so much?”
“Because it will be a flight like no other,” he answered.
He added: “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.”
Trappe further explained that nobody had ever attempted a flight like the one he was about to embark upon, “using only small helium 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,” said Trappe in the statement on his website.
Trappe said local storms had kept him grounded for most of the summer, as he waited for the perfect conditions.
“It was nail biting waiting for a weather window that would allow me to get up into the air and catch those transatlantic winds we’d been seeing,” he said, according to The Telegraph. “I need to get on them and ride them across like a conveyor belt.”
Even though his record-breaking attempt ended prematurely, Trappe still holds the record for the longest ever cluster balloon flight: 14 hours. He became the first and only person to cross the English Channel by cluster balloon in May 2010 and the Alps in September 2011.
The 2009 animated film “Up,” about an elderly man who tied thousands of helium-filled balloons to his home to fulfill his dream of seeing the world, set its own record by becoming the first animated movie to ever open the Cannes Film Festival. It also won Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Oscars.