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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedCluster balloonist makes flying fun and colorful
By Barbara A. Schmitz

While it isn't the fastest way to fly, it certainly is the most colorful. And Jonathan R. Trappe will argue it's also the way most people dream of flying as a child. As pilot of a cluster balloon that is a federally registered aircraft with an airworthiness certificate, Trappe knows the joy of the sport. On May 28, he became the first to use a cluster balloon-70 brightly colored balloons filled with helium-to fly across the English Channel before touching down on a farm near Dunkirk, France.

It was the first crossing of a significant body of water by a cluster balloon. A month earlier, in April, he made the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest cluster balloon flight, covering more than 109 miles in an overnight flight that lasted about 14 hours over North Carolina.

"When people dream of flying at treetop level, they don't think of an aircraft," he said. "They think of grabbing onto a large bunch of balloons and floating away. The flight experience itself is unparalleled."

Trappe will be speaking at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010, as well as launching a cluster balloon flight at the first weather opportunity. His main message at AirVenture will revolve around safety. "We are committed to making flights that are safe, legal, and reflect well on the flying community," Trappe said. "If you focus on safe and legal, then the third happens naturally. If anyone is interested in doing this, they need to do it the right way and get the appropriate training."

For those interested, he suggested joining the Balloon Federation of America and starting with hot-air balloons. "It's really a welcoming sport because balloonists need a team to help them launch and track on the ground," he said. "I suggest you crew a few times and then go for occasional rides. That's what I did-I opened the Yellow Pages and called a local balloon company and said I was interested in learning."

Trappe started by crewing and then attended one of two flight schools in the United States to get his Lighter-Than-Air: Free Balloon rating. Next, he purchased a hot-air balloon and began flying on weekends, and then he got gas balloon training before moving into cluster balloons.

For the future, Trappe is looking forward to doing some extraordinary things. "With an airworthiness certificate, we can fly internationally or at night, and we can fly with more than one person as long as that person is necessary for the flight. One of the ways it is necessary to have another person is to do long-distance, long-duration flights. We could launch out of California, for example, a multi-day manned flight, crossing the Sierra Nevadas with tremendous luck. But this is a dream at the moment because I have other things to conquer like the AmEx, the Visa bill, and the Mastercard.

"We either conquer those or we partner with the right people," he said. "It would be a great promotional opportunity for certain sponsors. When we flew the Channel … there were 740 news stories on the flight. If there was a sponsor logo on the balloon, it would have been a multimillion dollar hit…."

Where to Find Jonathan R. Trappe
- 8:30-9:45 a.m., Cluster Balloon Voyages, Forum Pavilion 7
Thursday - 10-11:15 a.m., Cluster Balloon Science, Homebuilders Hangar; and 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m., Interview With EAA Radio, Welcome Center
Saturday - 12:30-1:15 p.m., Cluster Balloon: Hands-On, KidVenture

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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