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Cluster ballooning

Cluster ballooning is an uncommon form of ballooning in which a single balloonist is attached by a harness to a cluster of relatively small helium-inflated rubber balloons.

Unlike traditional hot-air balloons, which possess vents for easy altitude control, cluster balloons rise uncontrollably, expanding as they go. Cluster balloonists must periodically cut balloons loose to maintain altitude and descend. Bottled water is a common ballast, and can be partially emptied to slow descent.


Famous balloonists

One of the most notable cluster balloonists is Larry Walters, who, in 1982, without any prior ballooning experience, attached 42 helium-filled weather balloons to a piece of patio furniture (a lawn chair) and lifted off. He intended to rise just a few hundred feet (about 100 metres), but vastly underestimated helium's lifting power and as a result, he quickly rose nearly 3 miles (5 km) into the air (over 50 times his intended maximum altitude).

Although cluster ballooning predated Walters, his feat captured the public imagination and helped to raise the sport's public profile. Today, one of the most prominent cluster balloonists is John Ninomiya, whose flights have been featured on The Science Channel, The History Channel, TechTV, TLC, and MTV.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the highest altitude attained via cluster ballooning to be that achieved by Mike Howard (UK) and Steve Davis (USA), who on August 4 2001, over Los Lunas, NM, USA, used 400 helium balloons to reach a height of over 18,300 feet (5,600 m). Larry Walters is estimated to have reached 16,000 feet (4,900 m) in 1982. His record is not recognized, however, because he did not carry a proper altimeter.[1], Yoshikazu Suzuki departed from Lake Biwa in Japan on 23 November 1992 with helium balloons. He was spotted by a Japanese coast guard airplane on 25 November 1992, located about 800 km offshore over the Pacific Ocean, at altitude between 2,500 and 4,000 m, and was never seen again.

In April 2008, in Brazil, Roman Catholic priest Adelir Antonio de Carli suspended himself via 1000 balloons. Ground observers lost track of him when he floated out above the ocean, and he was missing until his body was found by an offshore oil rig support vessel on 5 July 2008. Carli at one point reached an altitude of 6,000 metres (19,685 ft) before losing contact with authorities; his altitude may have indeed been the record for cluster ballooning, but it cost him his life.

Just two months later, in June 2008, FAA licensed pilot Jonathan Trappe attached a cluster of balloons to his standard, unmodified office chair and flew it to an altitude of 14,783 feet. The flight reportedly lasted four hours and covered 50 miles before Trappe returned to earth, retired the chair, and returned it back to his workplace.[2]

Walters' flight achieved the status of urban legend. To prove the feat was possible, it was tested in an episode of MythBusters, where one of the show's hosts was successfully lifted to a height of about 100 feet (30 m) in tethered flight; he gradually reduced his altitude by shooting out balloons with a pellet gun, proving the plausibility of the story.

Other applications

Smaller balloon clusters consisting of several toy balloons are sometimes used for creating flying light effects by using them as a carrier for lightsticks or other small light sources. They can be also used for other amateur scientific experiments, such as making aerial photographs or atmospheric measurements.

One of the advantages of smaller cluster balloons versus bigger balloons is that toy balloons, with or without helium filling, are more readily available than bigger balloons.

In fiction

  • In the Pixar film Up, the character Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Edward Asner, attaches a cluster of balloons to his house in an attempt to explore the world without having to leave his home. Pixar promoted the film with cluster balloon events allowing media VIP's to get in a replica of Carl Fredricksen's armchair and fly suspended by balloons up to 50 meters in the air while the armchair was tied by cords in the ground.[3]
  • The Australian movie Danny Deckchair features a character ("Danny") who ties a bunch of helium filled balloons to his deckchair during a party. His friends hold down the chair but inadvertently let go and set Danny on a ride across Australia, which causes him to become a national hero.
  • In the video game Pikmin, an enemy uses a cluster of balloons to drop bombs.
  • In the Malcolm in the Middle episode "Day Care", Reese, having found religion, attempts to fly to heaven using balloons attached to a lawn chair. He ends up crashing through a church's stained-glass window.
  • In the Arrested Development episode "Forget-me-Now," George attempts to use cluster balloons to escape house arrest.
  • In the episode of the simpsons 'coming to Homerica' Homer tries to fly in a deckchair with helium balloons attached to it but the balloons will not lift him. Carl and Lenny get on as he gets off, and go into incredibly high altitudes and nearly freeze to death.
  • In the game Chrono Trigger in one of the endings it is possible to see the two main characters float away utilizing the technique.

See also


  1. ^ , Up, Up, and Away!
  2. ^, Chairway to Heaven
  3. ^, Carl Fredricksen's Flying Armchair
  4. ^, "Boy Meets Kiddies" 1963 TIME review of A Ticklish Affair.

External links



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