Up, Up, and Away
An adventurer floats to 20,000 feet in a house carried by balloons
PHOTO: Trappe, shown above with a co-pilot, already holds numerous records for helium ballooning. (Laurentiu Garofeanu / Barcroft Media / Landov)
MAP: Trappe predicts his 2,500-mile flight across the Atlantic Ocean will take three to six days. (Jim McMahon)
If you’ve ever seen the movie Up, you probably remember that the main character flies into the air in a house tied to balloons. You probably thought such a feat could happen only in the movies.
But on November 18, North Carolina adventurer Jonathan Trappe brought that movie to life. At a Mexico balloon festival, he took to the skies in a tiny house tied to a cluster of helium balloons.
He performed a similar marvel in March 2011, floating 10,000 feet above the ground as part of an event sponsored by National Geographic. But this time, Trappe reached an altitude (or height) of more than 20,000 feet.
Trappe is getting ready for an even loftier (higher) goal. Next summer, he will attempt to become the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean using helium balloons. On that journey, he will fly in a seven-foot lifeboat carried by 365 balloons.
“It will be a flight like no other,” Trappe says.
Flying with helium balloons is called cluster ballooning. It is Trappe’s passion. In 2010, he became the first person to fly across the English Channel using helium balloons. He also holds records for crossing the Alps using helium balloons, for flying with the most helium balloons, and for flying the longest distance with helium balloons—230 miles.
To cross the Atlantic, he’ll have to fly more than 10 times that distance. Trappe predicts the 2,500-mile flight from Maine to France will take three to six days to complete. He will reach an altitude of up to 25,000 feet.
SAFETY IN MIND
It won’t be an easy feat. Five people have died attempting to cross the Atlantic with hot-air balloons, and no one has ever tried it using a cluster of helium balloons. To stay safe on his trip, Trappe has been working with four scientists to identify potential dangers and figure out how to handle them.
Trappe will carry food and water on his flight. He will wear an oxygen mask at the highest altitudes to help him breathe. The boat will have a canopy to protect against cold winds, and Trappe will wear a special suit to block the sun’s UV rays.
If something goes wrong, he will change into a cold-water suit, pop some balloons to bring the boat near the water, and try to land in the ocean. Trappe is learning to sail the boat in case that happens—but he is working very hard to make sure that it doesn’t.
“I [am] looking at an epic challenge,” he says. “I’ve changed my entire life to try and make it happen.”