American Jonathan Trappe is a balloonist but not in the classical sense. While most others employ a single hot-air balloon in their flights, Trappe uses a cluster of smaller balloons filled with Helium instead. This unusual approach has invited comparisons to Pixar’s Up, but the 38-year old American has already managed to float across both the English Channel and the Alps in this manner.
Next year, Jonathan plans to push the boundaries of cluster-ballooning even further however as he will attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean, covering a distance of 2500 miles in the process.
Trappe says that this epic flight will require 365 helium filled balloons which will carry him as high as 25,000 feet. That would easily exceed his previous altitude record of 21,600 feet, which was set on his flight over the Alps in 2010. Jonathan says that like a mountaineer, he’ll wear an oxygen mask on the Atlantic crossing which will help to keep him mentally sharp and aware when the air gets thin.
On his previous adventures Trappe strapped his balloons to a lightweight chair which served as his open-air cockpit on those flights. When he attempts to cross the Atlantic however, he’ll be floating in a seven-foot long lifeboat instead. This larger craft will not only carry all of the extra equipment and supplies he’ll need for the prolonged flight but will also serve as his emergency back-up plan. Should he run into trouble along the way, Trappe intends to release some of the balloons from his cluster, allowing him to control his descent to the water below. After setting down on the surface of the Atlantic, he’ll then proceed to sail back to land – at least in theory. Whether or not he would be able to pull off such a descent while hundreds of miles from shore and in the middle of a storm has yet to be seen.
At the moment, Trappe is still in the planning stages for his Atlantic Crossing. He says he has already sunk $170,000 into this venture and is looking to raise $300,000 more to help fund the flight. Assuming he manages to find the backing he needs, he intends to launch his flying boat and cluster of 365 balloons sometime next summer.
Fund raising isn’t his only hurdle he’ll need to overcome if he hopes to be successful. The 2500 miles he’ll have to cross in order to reach Paris, his proposed destination, is more than ten times the length of his previous longest flight. Thats quite a leap forward for cluster-ballooning. Lets just hope his plan for using the lifeboat in an emergency is a sound one.
[Photo Credits: Jonathan Trappe]
By Kraig Becker