Up and away for cluster balloonist's dream to cross the Atlantic

American daredevil Jonathan Trappe flying a cluster balloon craft made up of balloons of the...

American daredevil Jonathan Trappe flying a cluster balloon craft made up of balloons of the colours of the National flag of Mexico while taking part in Festival International Del Globo 2010, a festival celebrating Mexican independence, on November 19, 2010 in Mexico. (IMAGE SUPPLIED BY JONATHAN TRAPPE / BARCROFT USA)

Thane Burnett, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:30 PM ET

Remember when you were eight years old and were given those helium balloons by your dad who came staggering home from an office party — which annoyed your mom but you found funny because he kept mixing up her name and his secretary's?

And do you recall standing out in the backyard — where your mom sent you because she had to speak to your father "right now" — holding those balloons tightly, wondering how many would it take before you could fly?

Even if you've repressed some childhood recollections, Jonathan Trappe has hung onto the more universal feeling of wanting to float away.

Trappe is a cluster balloon pilot — using bunches of colourful helium spheres to make him fly. And his latest expedition is to float across the Atlantic Ocean.

Next summer, the unmarried 39-year-old IT manager plans to tie 365 UV resistant balloons to a lifeboat and float from Maine, over the Atlantic, heading to Paris. Though he could end up anywhere between Norway and North Africa — or straight into the rolling waves before reaching land.

So much will be determined by weather. And collecting enough money.

Often compared to Carl Fredricksen — from Disney's Up — Trappe made headlines in 2010 by flying over the English Channel and holds a record for crossing the Alps.

His original version of an escape pod from normalcy included balloons tied to an office chair. Of his first flight he recalls: "I carried my passport — more of a token of dreams than as an actual requirement."

Crossing the Atlantic will mean travelling 10 times further than he's ever gone before.

Cluster ballooning itself has a history of memorable but deadly outcomes, including a Japanese man who was last spotted by coast guard officials 800 km over the Pacific Ocean in 1992, and a Brazilian Catholic fundraising priest who died after floating out into the Atlantic in 2008.

But Trappe's chances are good, says Troy Bradley, who made the trip 20 years ago using a more traditional balloon.

The Albuquerque, N.M., pilot claims several world records, and during the one and only trans-Atlantic balloon challenge in 1992, was one of three teams to make it to land — starting from Maine and ending up in Morocco. Two others racers ditched safely into the water.

"You wake up each morning and see the same thing," he recalls of the Atlantic. "And you feel very small."

He once trained Trappe and has faith in him.

"It's not as dangerous as it once was," he reasons of the crossing.

"But you're still dealing with a large body of water."

Earlier this year, Trappe moved from his home in North Carolina to Maine in order to prepare for the adventure.

He's using Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site, hoping to raise the $300,000 needed for liftoff. So far, it's arguably a modest start.

"In the past, some king or royalty would decide what expeditions were worthy," Trappe argues. "Now, the people select what inspires them."

There is more than a bit of romantic longing here, as Trappe calls it the "white whale" of adventures. And he describes the challenge colourfully: "I will cast myself into the skies, throw myself against the great challenge and ride the winds of destinations unknown at launch."

He believes he's "floating in the footsteps" of great airmen before him. Though it all comes back to his days as a kid.

"(Didn't) you wonder about it, as a kid? Just looking at one balloon, and playing with it, and watching how it floats on the air.

"Didn't you wonder about just getting enough of them ... that you could float away?

"We were told it was impossible."

No, he can't get insurance. Yes, he still needs money to pull it off.

But even as an adult, he's not ready to let go.

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Those interested can donate or sponsor Trappe at http://www.indiegogo.com/upacrosstheatlantic.

 

 


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