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Largest Air Balloon Launched

February 19, 1988

STANDISH, Maine (AP) _ A hot-air balloon billed as the largest ever built lifted off at sunrise today from a frozen lake on its first flight.

The Super Maine, 10 percent to 20 percent larger in volume than the largest hot-air ballon on record, rose 50 feet off the ground just before 6:30 a.m. with 25 crew members aboard.

It stayed in the air, tethered to ropes, for several minutes while 100 people watched from the western shore of Sebago Lake in southern Maine.

″Everything’s come together almost perfectly,″ project coordinator and chief pilot Tom Handcock said after the flight, which organizers hoped would earn them an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Organizers of the Super Maine project did not try to beat the flight time of the Virgin Atlantic Flyer, which set records by flying from Maine across the Atlantic Ocean last summer. Handcock said they only wanted to build a balloon that was larger in volume than the Flyer.

To qualify as an air balloon, it had to lift off the ground, no matter how briefly.

The balloonists could not fly the balloon today even if they had wanted to. Since organizers did not complete Federal Aviation Administration paperwork in time, they were required to keep the balloon tethered, Handcock said.

After the first flight, organizers took the balloon up several more times, adding more people each time to its 8-by-12-foot gondola. At one point, 60 people were in the balloon’s basket, with one man hanging onto the side as the balloon lifted off the the ground a few feet.

The 210-foot-high, 168-foot-wide balloon is considered the largest because it holds 2.6 million cubic feet of hot air, between 300,000 and 500,000 cubic feet more than the 195-foot Virgin Atlantic Flyer, Handcock said.

Aboard the gondola on the first flight were 25 commercial balloon pilots, who built the balloon with the help of 25 other balloon enthusiasts from New England, Kentucky, Maryland and Canada.

The balloon was constructed of a polyethylene derivative called olifin and was assembled with an adhesive the organizers developed, said Handcock and his wife, Mig. It was constructed in four days in a Massachusetts warehouse and trucked to Maine.

Richard Branson and Per Linstrand flew the Virgin Atlantic Flyer into the Guinness Book last July by taking the balloon 2,789.6 miles from Carrabassett Valley to a brief touchdown in Ireland before it crashed into the sea. The balloon flew 87.7 mph and took 31 hours and 38 minutes to cross the Atlantic.

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