Tag Archives: Balloon

9–10 October 1900

The 1900 Paris World's Fair, before the start of the balloon race.
L’Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris (the 1900 Paris World’s Fair), before the start of the balloon race. (Parisienne de Photographie)

9–10 October 1900: The Aéro-Club de France held a long-distance balloon race, coinciding with the World’s Fair and Olympic Games. Six balloon teams competed for the Grand Prix, including that of Henri François Joseph, Comte de la Vaulx, and Joseph Félix Georges, Comte de Castillon de Saint-Victor, co-founders, along with several others, including Jules Verne, of the Aero Club.

From the American Monthly Review of Reviews, Vol. 23, January–June 2001, beginning at Page 609 :

M. le Comte, Henri de la Vaulx, 1908. (Agence ROL)

Of the six balloons entered for this record-breaking race, the Centaur was one of the smaller, its dimensions being 1,630 cubic meters, while its chief competitor, the St. Louis, measured 3,000 cubic meters. The Centaur rose from the grounds at Vincennes at 20 minutes past 5 in the afternoon of October 9. From Count de la Vaulx’s account of the journey, which appears in Pearson’s for April, we glean the following facts:

“Our direction at the start was north-north-east, and very soon, the sun having gone down, Paris was nothing for us but a vast, vaguely defined patch of luminosity far to the west. The Centaur was in equilibrium at about 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] above the sea-level, when the moon rose with such a radiant brilliance that we could read all our instruments without the aid of the electric lamp. Every now and then a shooting star traversed the vault of heaven, inciting us to wish for the success of our enterprise. . . .”

Count de la Vaulx described the route of the flight, the cities and landmarks that they passed over, the weather and temperatures at various altitudes. At several times during the race, they were in sight of another balloon, the larger St. Louis.

Centaur ascended as high as 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and experienced temperatures as low as -12 °C. (10 °F.) The changes in air temperature caused the gas in the balloon to expand and contract, and it rose and fell as the density of the gas varied.

Having expended their supply of breathing oxygen, the two aeronauts opened the balloon’s vents to descend closer to the ground. Their anchor rope caught in some trees and Centaur came to earth shortly thereafter.

Map of the 1900 balloon race
Map of the 1900 World’s Fair balloon race

La Vaulx and Saint-Victor had landed near Korostyshiv, Ukraine. The two counts had traveled 1,153 miles (1,856 kilometers) in 35¾ hours.

Having crossed the Russian frontier without passports, the two gentlemen were held in custody for four days before being allowed to return to France by train.

Participants of the 1900 balloon race. Left to right: The Comte de Castillon de Saint-Victor, G. Hervieu, Jacques Balsan, J. Faure, the Comte de La Vaulx, G. Juchmes and L. Maison. (Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 October 1958

The Project MANHIGH III balloon and gondola, shortly after launch at Holloman AFB, 1151 UTC, 8 October 1958. (Al Fenn/LIFE Magazine)
The Project MANHIGH III balloon and gondola, shortly after launch at Holloman AFB, 6:51 a.m., 8 October 1958. (Al Fenn/LIFE Magazine)

8 October 1958: At Holloman Air Force Base, southeast of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Project MANHIGH III balloon was launched at 6:51 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (13:51  UTC). The helium balloon lifted a 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) pressurized gondola. Inside was Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, U.S. Air Force.

Over the next three hours, the balloon ascended to an altitude of 99,700 feet (30,389 meters)¹ over the Tularosa Basin.

From this altitude, “Demi” McClure radioed to Dr. David G. Simon, who had flown a previous MANHIGH mission, “I see the most fantastic thing, the sky that you described. It’s blacker than black, but it’s saturated with blue like you said. . . I’m looking at it, but it seems more like I’m feeling it. . . I have the feeling that I should be able to see stars in this darkness, but I can’t find them, either—I have the feeling that this black is so black it has put the stars out.”

The purpose of the MANHIGH flights was to conduct scientific research through the direct observations of the pilot while in contact with ground-based scientists and engineers, and to gather physiological data about the stresses imposed on a human body during extreme high altitude flight.

Lieutenant Clifton M. McClure, U.S. Air Force (1932–2001)
1st Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, United States Air Force

Lieutenant McClure was born at Anderson, South Carolina, 8 November 1932, the son of Clfton M. McClure, Jr., a bookkeeper (who would serve as a U.S. Marine Corps officer during World War II) and Frances Melaney Allen McClure. He attended the Anderson High School, graduating in 1950. He earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in ceramic engineering from Clemson University. He had been an instructor pilot, flying the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star jet trainer, at air bases in Texas, but was then assigned to the Solar Furnace Project at Holloman AFB.

Prior high-altitude balloon flights had shown the need for extreme physiological fitness, and McClure was selected through a series of medical and physical evaluations similar to those that would later be used to select astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. He was considered to be physiologically and psychologically the best candidate for MANHIGH flights.

The MANHIGH III balloon was manufactured by Winzen Research, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota. It had a capacity of approximately 3,000,000 cubic feet (84,950 cubic meters) and was filled with helium.

The gondola was built of three cast aluminum cylindrical sections with hemispherical caps at each end. It was 9 feet (2.743 meters) high with a diameter of 3 feet (0.914 meters). Inside were cooling and pressurization equipment ,and equipment for various scientific experiments.

Lieutenant McClure wore a modified David Clark Company MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet for protection. He breathed a mixture of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium.

During the flight, Lieutenant McClure became dehydrated. Later, temperatures inside the gondola rose to 118 °F. (47.8 °C.). The cooling system was unable to dissipate heat from McClure’s body, and his body core temperature rose to 108.6 °F. (42.6 °C.). After twelve hours, it was decidede to end the flight. MANHIGH III touched down a few miles from its departure point at 2342 UTC, 9 October 1958.

After his participation in Project MANHIGH, Clifton McClure applied to become an astronaut in Project Mercury. He was turned down because his height—6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters)— exceeded the limits imposed by the small Mercury space capsule. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the MANHIGH III flight. He later flew Lockheed F-104 Starfighters with the South Carolina Air National Guard.

Clifton Moody McClure III died at Huntsville, Alabama, 14 January 2000, at the age of 67 years.

Lieutenant Clifton M. McClure, USAF, seated inside the MANHIGH III gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Sources vary. A NASA publication, Dressing For Altitude, cites McClure’s maximum altitude as 98,097 feet (29,900 meters) (Chapter 4, Page 162). The Albuquerque Tribune reported McClure’s altitude as 99,600 feet (30,358 meters), (Vol. 36, No. 163, Saturday, 11 October 1958, Page 7 at Column 6. The National Museum of the United States Air Force states 99,700 feet (30,389 meters). 99,700 feet is also cited in Office of Naval Research Report ACR-64, “Animals and Man in Space,” 1962.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–18 September 1984

Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. (Joe Kittinger collection)
Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. His deflated Yost GB55 helium balloon lies on the ground. (Joseph W. Kittinger Collection)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)

14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.

Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.

This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.

During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.

Joseph William Kittinger II
Joseph William Kittinger II, 1999. (MSGT Dave Nolan, United States Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048

² FAI Record File Numbers 1013, 1014

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19–20 August 1957

Major David G. Simons, M.D., USAF, took this photograph of himself as he neared the peak altitude of 101,516 feet, 19 August 1957. (LIFE Magazine)

19–20 August 1957: At 9:22 a.m., Central Daylight Time (1422 UTC), 19 August 1957, Major David G. Simons, M.D., United States Air Force, lifted off aboard a helium-filled balloon at an open pit mine near Crosby, Minnesota. This was the second flight of Project MANHIGH, MANHIGH II, a series of experiments to investigate the physiological effects of extreme high altitude flight. The balloon and its 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) gondola were deployed from the bottom of Portland Mine as protection from wind while it inflated.

After 2 hours, 18 minutes, Major Simons had reached 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) above the surface of the Earth. The peak altitude, 30,942 meters (101,516 feet), set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹

Major Simons wore a slightly modfified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit and MA-2 helmet for protection should the gondola lose pressure while at high altitude. During his flight, Dr. Simons performed 25 aeromedical experiments.

32 hours, 10 minutes after lift off, at 5:32 p.m., CDT (2232 UTC), 20 August, the MANHIGH II gondola touched down 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of Frederick, South Dakota.

Major Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented to him 24 August 1957 by Lieutenant General Samuel E. Anderson, at the Air Force Research and Development Command (ARDC) Headquarters, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

The helium-filled MANHIGH II balloon is prepared for launch inside the Portland Mine, 19 August 1957. (Cuyuna County Heritage Preservation Society)
David Goodman Simons. (The 1939 Epilogue)

David Goodman Simons was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 7 June 1922. He was the first of two children of Dr. Samuel Shirk Simons, a physician in private practice, and Catherine Rebecca Goodman Simons.

Dave Simons entered the Franklin & Marshall Academy at Lancaster in 1936. He was a member of the science club, and the swimming and tennis teams. He was on the school’s honor roll for 1938 and 1939.

Simon entered Franklin & Marshall College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in September 1940. At the age of 20 years, Simons was described as 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall, weighing 180 pounds (82 kilograms), with brown hair, hazel eyes, and a ruddy complexion.

From 15 August 1942 to 20 January 1944, Simons was on inactive service, assigned the Medical Administrative Corps, Army of the United States. (The MAC was responsible for officer training schools for medical professionals at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Camp Barkeley, southwest of Abilene, Texas.) On 21 January 1944, Simons was enlisted as a private, Enlisted Reserve Corps.

Following his graduation from Franklin & Marshall College, Simon entered the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1946.

On 22 March 1946, Private Simons was discharged from the ERC to accept a commission as an officer in the Army Medical Corps.

Lieutenant David Goodman Simons married Miss Mary Elizabeth Heagey, 23 June 1946. They would have five children, one of whom died in infancy. They divorced in 1959.

Lieutenant Simons was assigned to the Aero-Medical Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He was involved in early experiments which used captured V-2 rockets to launch rhesus monkeys into space. In 1948, Dave Simons was promoted to the rank of captain.

Captain Simons next attended the Air Force Advanced Course in Aviation Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. During the Korean War, he served as a flight surgeon at Yakota Air Base in Japan.

Captain Simons returned to scientific research at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base, Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he investigated cosmic radiation.

After divorcing his wife, Mary, Major Simons on 12 June 1959 married Mrs. Vera Winzen (née Wera Maria Habrecht), the divorced founder and owner of Winzen Research, Inc., manufacturers of the MANHIGH balloons and gondolas. They also divorced, 5 May 1969.

Major David G. Simons, M.D., U.S. Air Force, at left, with the Project MANHIGH gondola, Otto C. Winzen, and Vera M. Winzen (the future Mrs. Simons), circa 1957. (Photograph by Joel Yale/LIFE Photo Collection)

Lieutenant Colonel Simons retired from the United States Air Force 30 June 1965.

Dr. Simons married Mrs. Ute Margarete McConnell (née Ute Margarete Jordan) a reference librarian at the Texas Medical Center, 20 May 1971. Ms. Jordan, like Simon’s second wife, was also a native of Germany. They would also divorce.

Dr. Simons became the leading authority on myofascial pain and co-authored a text book on trigger points and chronic pain management, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.

Later, Dr. Simons was Clinical Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. David G. Simons, M.D., Ph.D., Hon., Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force (Retired), died at his home in Covington, Georgia, 5 April 2010. he was 87 years old.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10709

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1932

Auguste Piccard loads supplies aboard the gondola of his balloon, 18 August 1932. Aktuelle-Bilder-Centrale, Georg Pahl (Bild 102)
Auguste Piccard loads supplies aboard the gondola of his balloon, 18 August 1932. Aktuelle-Bilder-Centrale, Georg Pahl (Bild 102)

18 August 1932: At 5:04 a.m., Professor Auguste Antoine Piccard and his assistant, Max Cosyns, used a hydrogen-filled balloon to lift their pressurized gondola from Dübendorf Airfield, Zürich, Switzerland, into the stratosphere on an expedition to investigate the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere and to study cosmic radiation. During the 12 hour flight, Piccard and Cosyns reached an altitude of 16,201 meters (53,153 feet), setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹

The expedition was funded by Belgium’s Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS).

Auguste Piccard's balloon being inflated with hydrogen at Dübendorf Flughafen, Zurich, Switzerland, during the night of 17–18 August 1932. (Unattributed)
Auguste Piccard’s balloon being inflated with hydrogen at Dübendorf Flughafen, Zürich, Switzerland, during the night of 17–18 August 1932. (Unattributed)

Piccard’s balloon was made of rubberized cotton fabric. It had a maximum volume of 500,000 cubic feet (14,158 cubic meters) and weighed, by itself, approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). When it expanded to its maximum size in the upper atmosphere, the diameter was 99 feet (30.2 meters). The gondola was constructed of aluminum and was 7 feet (2.14 meters) in diameter. There were to hatches for entry and exit, and seven port holes.

The outer surface of the spherical gondola was painted half white and half black. This was intended to control interior heat by turning the lighter side toward or away from the sun by means of a small propeller mounted to a horizontal stanchion. Unfortunately for the two aeronauts, this did not work. The hermetically sealed hatches allowed the gondola to maintain the surface atmospheric pressure as it rose into the stratosphere. The air contained inside the aluminum sphere was recycled through a Draeger system of the type used in submarines. This added oxygen to replace that consumed and extracted the carbon dioxide that was exhaled.

The balloon reached the peak altitude at 12:12 p.m. During the ascent, the temperature inside the gondola dropped to 5 °F. (-15 °C.). It landed near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, a little after 3:15 p.m.

This was Piccard’s second ascent into the stratosphere. On 27 May 1931 he and Paul Kipfer lifted off from Augsburg, Germany and rose to a record altitude of 15,781 meters (51,775 feet).  (FAI Record File Number 10634) They landed at the Großer Gurgler Ferner galcier near Obergurgl in the Tyrolian Alps.

Professor Piccard was made Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold and Max Cosyns, Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold by Albert I, King of the Belgians. Professor made nearly 30 ascents into the upper atmosphere before turning to the exploration of the very deep oceans with his bathyscaphe, Trieste.

Commander of the Order of Leopold, Civil Division.
Commander of the Order of Leopold, Civil Division.

¹ FAI Record File Number 6590

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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