Organizers Hope Flight Will Take Big Balloon Into Record Books
STANDISH, Maine (AP) _ A hot-air balloon billed as the world’s largest strained into the air carrying as many as 60 people at a time Friday in a bid for the record books, even though it was firmly tethered to the ground.
The balloon, the Super Maine, is bigger even than the Virgin Atlantic Flyer hot-air balloon which crossed the Atlantic last summer.
″It was immense, it was incredible,″ said Gary Lovell, who flew a regular-sized hot-air balloon alongside the Super Maine. ″It was very impressive being in the air next to something that large and be a fellow balloon. I’ve had 747s go overhead before; this would dwarf that.″
The Super Maine, 10 to 20 percent larger in volume than the Flyer, established its flying ability by rising 50 feet off frozen Sebago Lake with 25 people aboard. It remained aloft, tethered to ropes, for about five minutes while 100 or so balloon enthusiasts watched.
″Everything’s come together almost perfectly, ... we’re very happy,″ project coordinator and chief pilot Tom Handcock said after the flight, which he hoped would earn an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
″You can only do so much with good planning and a lot of it is up to Mother Nature, and Mother Nature cooperated,″ he added.
After the initial flight, organizers took the balloon up several more times, adding more and more people to its 8-by-12-foot gondola. At one point, 60 people were in the basket, with one man hanging onto the side while the balloon lifted off the ground a few feet, said one organizer, Ruth Ludwig.
The Virgin Atlantic Flyer carried crew members Richard Branson and Per Linstrand 2,789.6 miles from Carrabassett Valley, Maine, to a brief touchdown in Ireland last July.
The designers, builders and supporters of the 210-foot-high, 168-foot-wide Super Maine simply wanted to construct a balloon that was larger in volume than the Flyer. The Super Maine was built to hold 2.6 million cubic feet of hot air, between 300,000 and 500,000 cubic feet more than the 195-foot-high Flyer, Handcock said.
Lovell said he could fit 40 regular-sized balloons, which are the size of two or three tractor-trailer trucks, inside the Super Maine.
The balloonists could not release the ropes holding the craft to the ground because organizers did not complete Federal Aviation Administration paperwork in time to launch a free flight.
No one seemed to mind.
″The thing went great. We wish we could have flown it away, but our good old government wasn’t into that,″ said Brian Boland, a Burlington, Conn., resident who has designed and flown hot-air balloons for 17 years.
″The champagne corks are poppin’ left and right,″ Boland said in a post- flight telephone interview from a nearby bar. ″It’s an incredible thing. Everybody’s just glowing.″
The balloon and gondola, which cost a total of $7,000, were built with the help of volunteers, mainly commercial balloon pilots from New England, Kentucky, Maryland and Canada. They assembled the balloon in four days last month in a Massachusetts warehouse and trucked it to Maine.
Handcock said he probably will not attempt to assemble the balloon again for another launch, citing the time and work involved, but offered to permit other pilots with the skill and knowledge required to give it a try.
″We (did) it mostly for our personal pleasure - just to say we flew the largest balloon in the world,″ he said. ″I know that doesn’t make sense. But it’s a long winter up here.″