Expedition Watch: Crossing the Atlantic Ocean Under a Balloon Cluster

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The ideal flight path. Photo:

This past weekend at the Leon International Balloon Festival, Jonathan Trappe lifted a fake house off the ground using a cluster of balloons. The stunt, inspired by the Disney movie Up, is the latest in a series of jaunts Trappe has completed to prep for what he calls “the great white whale of adventure:” a trans-Atlantic cluster balloon flight. Before you settle on snickering as the appropriate reaction, at least consider this: five other people have died attempting to be the first to complete the crossing, according to The Telegraph.

Here is a bit more on his attempt.

WHO: Trappe has racked up numerous cluster balloon records, including a 109-mile float that earned him a Guinness World Record for the longest cluster balloon flight of all time, a crossing of the English Channel, and a flight over the Alps.

WHAT: The 38-year-old will attempt a 2,500-mile crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, from Maine to France— or wherever else the wind may take him, by flying a seven-foot lifeboat carried by 365 helium-filled balloons at an elevation of up to 25,000 feet. He will cover the boat with an exposure canopy to help protect against the cold and carry supplemental oxygen to help with breathing. In case it's not obvious, he's using a boat as a gondola in case his balloons fail over the Atlantic.

WHEN: Trappe plans to attempt the three- to six-day flight in the summer of 2013.

WHY: “Because it will be a flight like no other. I am moving forward towards that goal! I have spent months searching for the ideal gondola that I could fly over a body of water. I have crossed the English Channel, flying in manned flight with only toy balloons. I crossed that freshwater inland sea known as Lake Michigan—a 100-mile water crossing. I made those flights, over some significant water, in a tiny harness, suspended beneath helium balloons. Now I look at a larger body of water, and I need something that will float and preserve human life, should I have to ditch at sea. So I have come to Maine. After months of searching, I found a perfect, sturdy, rigid, double-hulled proactive lifeboat. This is a serious piece of emergency gear that mariners rely upon to save their lives if their mother ship goes down. I will use this emergency lifeboat as a gondola. It will be my main ship. I will build a harness, strap it around this boat, then attach my precious helium balloons to this lifeboat. I will sail, but not on the oceans. I will sail on the skies.” —Trappe on

SPONSORS: In what may be the most challenging part of the feat, Trappe is trying to fundraise $300,000 in the next 29 days at


—Joe Spring

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