Jonathan Trappe launches his cluster
balloon from Pioneer airport just after 8 p.m. Thursday (July
Trappe's progress with satellite tracking through his website clusterballoon.com.
If you couldn't see Jonathan R. Trappe's
aircraft flying over Oshkosh Thursday night, you must be colorblind.
That's the only way you could miss his aircraft-a cluster balloon that
is a federally registered aircraft with an airworthiness certificate.
The Spirit Cluster lifted off EAA's
Pioneer Airport at about 8:10 p.m. CDT Thursday, joining only the
Goodyear blimp, which was circling it in the sky.
Trappe, EAA 879217, flew east over Lake
Winnebago, then southeast, crossing Lake Michigan into Michigan.
He continued flying southeast, flying
near Kalamazoo, and then started flying south-southwest near Highway 40,
before landing safely near Bloomingdale, Michigan, at 9:43 a.m. EDT
Friday. He had been in the air about 11-1/2 hours, and at times, had
flown up to 34 mph at 14,000 feet.
Throughout his trip, Trappe was suspended
in a harness and equipped with water ballast, an oxygen system,
hand-held aircraft radio, transponder, and more. He flew by using the
ballast to adjust his altitude to find the winds that he wanted.
Trappe said it was breathtaking and
humbling to fly over Lake Michigan at night. "It's like a
fresh-water sea, with a pure pool below you. With a three-quarters moon,
it reflected beautiful below."
At times the balloons blocked out the
moon, and when they moved the bright light shining suddenly in the
complete darkness was almost startling, he said.
Over two lakes to another state…
The flight went well, with only minor problems. For one, the regulator
on the oxygen bottle got stuck, and Trappe said he had to jam it open.
The only other problem was the cold; temperatures dipped to about 30°F.
He and his crew, however, had planned for
an overnight flight since the weather forecast looked promising.
Still, Trappe said it's difficult to put
on additional layers on clothing with all the gear he carries and while
in a harness. "Just try putting a pair of pants on when you're in a
harness," he said, laughing.
Trappe's crew followed him on the ground,
but had to detour around Lake Michigan to get to the western shores of
Michigan and then to his landing site. His crew helped him pack up all
the gear, and by 2 p.m. EDT Friday, they were heading back to Oshkosh.
Trappe said they may stop and sleep for a
few hours-both he and his crew hadn't slept since Wednesday night-but he
said he would be back in time for Saturday's presentation.
His AirVenture flight Thursday actually
started later than originally planned after the FAA refused the 6 p.m.
launch time first agreed on due to anticipated air traffic.
Minutes after the airport closed for the
night at 8 p.m., however, the 51 brightly colored balloons carrying
Trappe below could be seen rising above the trees into the darkening
A few hours before, Trappe and his crew taught nearly two dozen
volunteers how to properly fill the balloons, which vary in size from
about 5.5 feet to about 8.5 feet.
Stationed in front of the EAA Air
Academy, the volunteers then spent about the next two hours inflating
the huge blue, green, red, yellow and white balloons with dozens and
dozens bottles of helium.
A long line was stretched out on the
ground with hooks every four or five feet. One by one, the volunteers
filled balloons with helium, and then hooked them to themselves as they
walked the balloon to the line and attached it to the rope.
Light winds made the balloons bob up and
down and a small crowd gathered around the perimeter to watch.
From time to time, Trappe walked over to
the groups and chatted, answering their questions.
"I really want to say what a honor
and a pleasure it was flying over Oshkosh," he said Friday.
"I intentionally went out low, so
low that I can tell you about the condition of the gutters on the air
academy. But I wanted to be low over the AirVenture grounds so I could
talk to people.
"While it was exciting to cross such
a large body of water, it meant much more for a homebuilder and an EAA
member to be part of something like this."
Can you really fly, using only helium
balloons? Jonathan R. Trappe will bring some of his helium balloons for
a hands-on presentation at KidVenture on Saturday. His presentation goes
from 12:30-1:15 p.m.