Loc: New Hampshire
story from the Wall street journal - I copied it here, cause you need a membership to read it.<br><br><font size="4">Hobbyist Follows French Film<br>To Turn a Dream Into Flight</font><br><font size="3">By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER <br>Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL</font><br><br>NEWTON, Kan. -- John Ninomiya took off from the county airport here with three knives strapped around his neck. He would need them to land: popping or cutting away, one by one, the 80 helium balloons lifting him over the cornfields.<br><br><img src="http://www.imacusers.com/maccentral/balloon.jpg" align="left" />Mr. Ninomiya is a cluster balloonist, a new breed of flying enthusiast. Like generations of daydreaming kids -- as well as the people in pickup trucks chasing his flight Oct. 20 -- he is captivated by the seemingly preposterous notion of floating away with a giant bouquet of balloons.<br><br>Mr. Ninomiya and other cluster balloonists cite as their inspiration the 1956 Academy Award-winning film "The Red Balloon," which ends with a little French boy, Pascal, transported over Paris by a bunch of candy-colored balloons. "It was, beyond a doubt, the most wonderful thing I could ever imagine doing," says Mr. Ninomiya.<br><br>A crowd of Kansans appeared to agree. This flight, Mr. Ninomiya's 15th, drew two dozen volunteers and hundreds of gawkers at 8 a.m. on a chilly Sunday as a featured attraction at the first Balloons Over Kansas hot-air-balloon festival. "Follow the yellow brick road to the Newton City-County airport," encouraged fliers for the event. All it took were some balloons, five-mile-per-hour winds and teamwork to make reality of this flight of fancy.<br><br>In 1982 Larry Walters, a man with no prior ballooning experience, attached 42 helium weather balloons to a lawn chair, intending to go up a few hundred feet. In fact, he soared to 16,000 feet. Mr. Walters survived the flight, despite accidentally dropping the BB gun he planned to use to pop the balloons and eventually landing, unhurt, on some electrical wires.<br><br>Two decades later, specially trained hot-air balloonists have taken Mr. Walters's well-documented technical errors to heart, turning his ill-fated experiment into a serious hobby. Norwegian sky diver Trond Solli, Dutch-Indonesian artist Fiona Tan and hot-air balloon pioneer Don Piccard all have attempted flights. In October 2001, daredevil Ian Ashpole flew 600 balloons to 11,000 feet, parachuting his way back to earth. In August, British Airways pilot Mike Howard, dressed as James Bond in a dinner jacket, flew 300 larger balloons.<br><br>Mr. Howard is drawn to the simplicity of the flights. "Although I wouldn't recommend it, anybody can actually go out and do this. I've never thought of it as a sport, though -- it's more of a couple of lunatics going out and having a bit of fun," he says.<br><br>Today there's informal competition among cluster balloonists to set some kind of record. Mr. Ninomiya, who has ascended to 21,400 feet using bigger balloons, claims the record for the highest flight altitude, while Englishman Mr. Ashpole holds the official Guinness World Record for his 11,000-foot climb.<br><br>Hein le Roux, who settles such issues for Guinness World Records, admits there is some ambiguity. That's why he developed comprehensive rules two years ago: The balloons must be commercially available, each balloon must be individually tied to the seat, and plastic valves and ribbons may not be attached to the balloons. "We wanted to ensure that people were in keeping with the spirit of the record. We want latex and some cotton string," says Mr. le Roux.<br><br>Apparently Mr. Ninomiya's balloons are too large, and his flying device too sophisticated. So he has gone to Kansas to work on a new record: flying helium balloons in every state.<br><br>Kansas inflation began before dawn. Flight-crew chief Chuck Powell and his son, Aaron, both sky divers and hot-air balloonists, managed the morning's preparations, filling sandbags to hold down inflated balloons and rolling 32 tanks of helium into an airplane hangar.<br><br>Counting out stacks of red, white and blue reusable latex balloons, Aaron, 16, talked about how, when he was four, he released a big red helium balloon with a note attached asking its finder to call his house. He got a call a week and half later from about 180 miles away. "Ever since then, I've always wanted to get a bunch of helium balloons and see where they would fly," he says.<br><br>A human helium flight requires careful preflight calculations, based on wind speed, weight and the physics of helium lift. It takes between 7,000 and 9,000 cubic feet of helium to lift Mr. Ninomiya and his equipment -- 16 pounds of lift per eight-foot balloon, four pounds per five-foot balloon. So Mr. Ninomiya, 42, a former actuary who is working on a Ph.D. in epidemiology, brought to Kansas specially designed welded gas manifolds to regulate the flow of helium into the balloons.<br><br>Mr. Ninomiya circled the operation, doling out orders from a checklist. Volunteers called him "Helium Guy." When he wasn't looking, a few volunteers gulped a bit of the helium and joked about hooking up little sisters or the airport cat to a cluster. "Wouldn't take much," said Aaron Powell to his 10-year-old sister, Lydia.<br><br>Inflation complete, volunteers tied the balloons with nylon twine to a paragliding chair harness, creating a tiered balloon design to avert treacherous tangling. Mr. Ninomiya strapped on a Global Positioning System device, six two-gallon camping water bottles, an altimeter, radio, backup cellphone, helmet, earplugs, headphones, disposable camera and a parachute.<br><br>"Seems like a nice day for a flight," said Mr. Ninomiya, watching a solitary helium balloon fly away to test the winds one last time.<br><br>Liftoff was simple: just let go. With a snip of the lines attaching him to sandbags, Helium Man was off, headed northwest like an oversized bunch of grapes. The square layout of the Kansas farm fields, crisscrossed with dirt roads, made tracking simple for the "chase crew," standard procedure for hot-air balloon rides.<br><br>Once aloft, in order to ascend, he drains water from some of the camping bottles. To descend, he bursts balloons. He developed this ballast system to prevent incidents, such as the one in which he nearly landed in a prison yard at the end of one upstate New York flight. To control direction, balloon fliers harness crosswinds by changing altitude.<br><br>"These skills are not rocket science, but they are not something you're going to figure out on your first flight while you're drifting toward the high-tension lines and imminent crispy-critterhood," Mr. Ninomiya says.<br><br>Birds seem to leave the floating man alone.<br><br>So far, the Federal Aviation Administration has left him alone, too. Cluster balloonists are covered, along with other "ultralight vehicles" such as hang gliders, by "Part 103" of FAA regulations. Though the FAA requires no equipment inspection or pilot certification, balloon flights must avoid congested areas and the airspace controlled by airports. When Mr. Ninomiya flew to his peak of 21,400 feet on Oct. 18, 1998, he did it with permission from the Los Angeles air-traffic-control center, which required him to carry an aircraft radio and transponder.<br><br>An hour and a half after the Kansas liftoff, Mr. Ninomiya drifted down over an open cornfield then quickly cut loose dozens of balloons. A moment later, he landed near the City of Hesston's Well No. 9. He had traversed 14 miles and risen to a height of 5,000 feet.<br><br>The Powells parked the truck and ran into the field to grab Mr. Ninomiya's tether to keep him from dragging along with the wind. Neighbors and passersby who had witnessed the descent began to gather at the scene, so Mr. Ninomiya offered a few tethered balloon rides and handed out balloons to wide-eyed kids.<br><br>Then Aaron Powell cut loose a spare red balloon, and tied to it a piece of paper with his phone number and the message, "If found, please call collect."<br><br>Write to Geoffrey A. Fowler at email@example.com<br><br>Updated November 1, 2002<br><br><br><br><br><br>
Nah, I've seen that in graphics that were overly sharpened, or blown up from smaller proportions..<br><br>I believe it, but I still think it's dumb. <br><br>[color:red]Hold on...it's time for a</font color=red><br>
Loc: Pacific NW, USA
Redneck Astronauts<br><br>The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine, which sets even a wise man to singing and to laughing gently and rouses him up to dance and brings forth words <br>which were better unspoken.<br>Homer
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