Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Flying Sheep and Fugos

It was 1783 and brothers Joseph and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier had observed smoke rising from a fire and wondered if smoke could be harnessed to enable man to fly.

On September 19 near Versailles, they launched Le Martial, powered by hot air produced by burning bundles of chopped straw, rotting meat, and old shoes. The balloon carried three "passengers." The brothers had declined to be the first to risk this type of flight and instead had selected a duck, a rooster, and a sheep to be the first to experience flight via the balloon.

The flight remained airborne for eight minutes before descending one and a half miles away. The animals, which were caged in a basket suspended from the balloon, landed safely, although the rooster suffered a broken wing.

This was the first exhibit in the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, which opened in 2005. Viewed from the north face, the Museum has the appearance of a balloon in flight. The Museum presents the development of ballooning through historic, scientific and artistic objects reflecting world-wide achievements in this field. The displays include more than fifty historic and contemporary gondolas, many accompanied by complete balloon systems.

In 1785 the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard, accompanied by John Jeffries, an American, made the first hydrogen-filled balloon (note the closed bottom of the balloon) crossing of the English Channel. The two arrived after dumping their equipment, decorative drapes, and most of their clothing to avoid plunging into the sea. (By the way, Blanchard also made the first balloon ascent in North America, from Philadelphia, in 1793.)

One interesting display was that of one of the first parachutes. This was of interest because of the owner, Marie Merton. The first parachutists were women and the poster (dated 1891) shows Marie with her parachute (without any harness), simply holding onto only a ring attached to the chute. She would jump out of gas balloons from heights up to 10,000 feet.

Double Eagle II, piloted by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, became the first balloon to cross the Atlantic Ocean when it landed August 17, 1978 in Miserey near Paris, 137 hours 6 minutes after leaving Presque Isle, Maine.

Shown here is the Double Eagle V, which completed the first successful Trans-Pacific crossing (from Japan to Covelo, CA) in 84 hours on November 12, 1981. During the flight, six tons of ice formed on the top of the balloon and prevented it from reaching the jet stream at its maximum speed.

Re-designing the shape of the balloon prevented ice from forming. In this cutaway model, the small top circle contains helium as does the center circle. The lower section contains a hot air cone powered by propane.

The Breitling Orbiter 3 used this helium and hot air balloon to circle the globe in 20 days (March 1-20, 1999), reaching speeds of up to 120 mph at a maximum altitude of 38,000 feet. The flight left Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland and landed at Mut, Egypt.

One display addressed the use of balloons in warfare. Near the end of WW II, the Japanese launched some 9300 Fugo balloons that were designed to reach an altitude that would take them into the jet stream and drop the four cannisters each carried, causing forest fires in the states of the Northwest. A little over 300 Balloon Bomb incidents occured in the U.S. and Canada. The only casualties were a woman and five kids in Bly, Oregon on a church picnic, who found and moved one. It expoded, killing them all.

Lastly, Mel, our guide, let me test my skill at taking off, navigating, and landing during a computer-generated balloon flight. Simply put, one cord increased the altitude, the other decreased it.

The Balloon Museum solidifies Albuquerque’s reputation as the “World Capital of Ballooning.”

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