Cluster ballooning is a style of flight that uses a large number of
small gas balloons (usually Helium-filled) rather than the
single large balloon.
Some very experienced pilots, for example
have developed cluster ballooning techniques
over a period of years and now fly cluster systems
on a routine basis. At the other extreme, there are
wild-eyed antics that involve little more than
lashing a big bunch of party balloons to a lawnchair and seeing what happens.
The news media are particularly fond of reporting on the latter style.
And then there are rare folks who take a thoughtful approach to
making a one-time cluster balloon flight.
The protagonist of the story chronicled here, Jonathan Trappe,
is such a person.
One fine day in 2007, Jonathan's muse inspired him to
make a cluster balloon flight using his office
chair as his "basket."
Jonathan was determined to avoid having his voyage lead to either the
that has sometimes resulted when other people have tried to become
one-off cluster balloonists.
To that end, he methodically
did his homework, designed his system,
obtained appropriate flight training, and informed the FAA.
is an fine example of the diligent risk management of a Quixotic endevour.
Jonathan's preparations are described below in a series of email
"Communiques" that he sent to people following his progress.
(Note: Click on any picture to get a full-sized version.)
Jonathan made his long-planned flight on the morning of June 7, 2008.
The flight was 4-hours in length, reached 14,000+ feet in altitude,
and covered nearly 50 miles.
Two hot air balloons escorted the first part of Jonathan's flight. One, flown by Tom Tomasetti,
launched beforehand and served as a 'pibal' by radioing down
wind reports at regular altitude intervals.
The second escort, flown by Brian Hoyle, launched simultaneously and served as a camera platform.
Here is Jonathan's initial report:
Communique #11 - 9-Jun-08 - Chairway to Heaven
Associated images -
And Here is Jonathan's final report:
Communique #12 - 14-Jun-08 - Highlights, Full debrief, and Farewell
Associated images -
It appears that it was just too much fun. So Jonathan didn't
"hang up his spurs" as originally expected. He's made
at least one more cluster flight and plans to make more.
You can check out his website at
Story in the News & Observer newspaper
from the above story
Some Comments from Experienced Balloonists
Due to their checkered safety record, cluster balloons are fairly controversial
amongst balloon pilots. For some perspective,
here are the thoughts of some of the "old
hands" in the field as expressed on the
"Balloon Reflector" mailing list.
Troy Bradley, 1-Jun-08 -
To anyone on this list questioning Jonathan's upcoming flight preparations,
I can assure you his flight is very well thought out and meticulously
planned. When Jonathan first contacted me about his project I told him I
think cluster flights are stunts and I don't really see the point. However,
seeing his enthusiasm and determination to move forward I was more than
willing to offer my assistance. He has spent an incredible amount of time
and financial resources to insure he is well versed in all aspects of this
flight. Although, I still feel it a stunt, I have the ability to help him
pull off this "stunt" safely. Anyone that has positive input should help,
but you would be hard pressed to point out any of the down sides to this
flight that Jonathan hasn't already thought of. There are an awful lot of
people on this list who have an abundance of opinions, but never seem to go
out and do anything. Even though I don't see the point, it's Jonathan's
dream and I am behind him 100%.
Don Piccard, 8-Jun-08 -
Congratulations to Jonathan R. Trappe
For his great contribution to the sport.
For a wonderful bit of public relations for ballooning.
He even went higher than dad did in 1937 - and with just a chair instead of
a basket. (The chair was great for Jonathan's flight, but not so good in
Hit that link and enjoy a great article - even to the peanut and jelly
sandwiches. He should have taken Angel Food cake.
(Note: Don's Plieiades-style cluster system can be found at
A Word of Caution
If you ever get the urge to emulate Jonathan's journey, you would be wise to
follow his example of careful planning. However, don't blindly mimic
what you read here because what worked for him may not work for you.
The most important thing to learn from Jonathan's approach is
the need to seek advice from competent instructors
and consultants. And please keep this
disclaimer in mind.