GIVE ‘EM HELIUM
Three Americans from New Mexico completed the first transatlantic balloon flight, landing in a barley field 60 miles from Paris, 138 hours and six minutes after lifting off from Presque Isle, Maine. The helium-filled Double Eagle II covered 3,233 miles in its six-day journey.
Almanac devotees will remember (having most certainly taken notes) that Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English Channel to great fanfare some two hundred years earlier.
Balloonists began attempting the Atlantic crossing in the mid-1800s, with 17 unsuccessful flights, resulting in the deaths of at least seven balloonists. Two of our three balloonists gave it their first shot in September 1977, aboard the Double Eagle I, but were blown off course, landing off Iceland after 66 hours. After recovering from bruises, embarrassment and frostbite, they were ready to foolishly rush in again. A third pilot was brought in to spread the pain.
The Eagle Junior was a big balloon – 11-stories of helium. It made good progress after blastoff, but during mid-trip, plunged from 20,000 feet to a hair-raising 4,000 feet, forcing them to jettison ballast material and many of their inflight amenities. Among the items chucked overboard was evidently all of their finer cuisine, for they were forced to finish the trip dining only on hot dogs and sardines. Toward the end of the trip, one balloonist was heard to remark somewhat testily: “Skip the bun; just grease up my hot dog with mustard real good and I’ll shove it in my ear.”
Panic set in when the balloonists couldn’t find the Eiffel Tower. Blown off course, they touched down just before dusk on August 17, 1978, near the hamlet of Miserey, missing the wine and ticker-tape parade in Paris. Parisians, not wanting to give up a celebratory occasion, amused themselves in honor of the storming of the Bastille.