American balloonist Jonathan Trappe has become the first person to cross the Alps using helium-filled balloons as his method of transport. The 38-year-old from Raleigh, North Carolina in the US, took almost 12 hours to make the historic crossing, around half of which was completed in the dark.
The trained pilot, who last year crossed the English Channel using helium-filled balloons, began his journey in Gap, South East France, where he filled 54 balloons with helium and took off into the night, taking a path westward over the French Alps.
Most of the adventure was carried out in the dark. Trappe, who crossed the English Channel last year using helium balloons, was able to watch the sunrise from an altitude of 15,000ft.
“There’s nothing like watching the sun return to the sky from the sky”, he said. His 94-mile journey began in the South of France. It took him past the massive Monte Viso in the French Alps, before he landed in the Italian town of Andezeno.
“The most enjoyable part of the trip was also the most terrifying. At one point I thought I was heading straight for a Monte Viso,” he said. “My altimeter told me I was clear of it but my eyes told me I was going to slap into it and in that moment I was really scared. In the end I sailed right past it without a problem, which was just exhilarating.”
“The experience was just amazing and it goes to show you can accomplish your dreams,” he added. “As children we all have this dream of flying off on balloons but we are told it’s not possible. But it really is possible and it makes me wonder how many other things do we tell our kids aren’t possible that really are.”
On May 28, 2010, Jonathan Trappe’s crossing of the English Channel by cluster balloon. Trappe departed near Challock, England, crossed over the White Cliffs of Dover at St. Margarets Bay, and made landfall again over Dunkirk, France. Trappe then tracked inland, and landed safely in a farmer’s cabbage patch in France.
The 36-year-old Jonathan Trappe just thinks that it’s fun and said: “It is unique. A hot-air balloon is beautiful but makes a huge roar. A gas balloon is the only kind of aircraft that flies in complete silence. I can hear the waves from a thousand feet.”
“Didn’t you have this dream — grabbing on to a bunch of toy balloons and floating off?” he said. “I think it’s something that’s shared across cultures and across borders. Just this wonderful fantasy of grabbing on to toy balloons and floating into open space.”
Cluster ballooning is a form of ballooning where a harness attaches a balloonist to a cluster of helium-inflated rubber balloons.
Unlike traditional hot-air balloons, where a single large balloon is equipped with vents enabling altitude control, cluster balloons are multiple, small, readily available and individually sealed balloons.
To control flight, arrest a climb or initiate a descent, the pilot incrementally jettisons or deflates balloons. Ballast, e.g., bottled water, can also be jettisoned to facilitate ascent.
Cluster ballooning is a relatively new adventure sport, which first hit the headlines in 1982 when Larry Walters attached 42 helium-filled weather balloons to a patio chair and took off.
The American had no prior ballooning experience and only intended to rise a few hundred feet, but rose more than 15,000ft into the air. He floated into controlled airspace near Los Angeles International Airport.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the highest altitude attained via cluster ballooning to be that achieved by Mike Howard (UK) and Steve Davis (USA), who on August 4 2001, over Los Lunas, NM, USA, used 400 helium balloons to reach a height of over 18,300 feet (5,600 m). [Cluster Balloon via The Telegraph (UK)]