Home > Fun, Legal Research > Up, Up and Away… Hot Air Balloons in the Limelight

Up, Up and Away… Hot Air Balloons in the Limelight

Man.  Homo sapiens. Humans.  We have always had a fascination with flying. From the ancient myths of Pegasus and the story of Icarus and Daedalus, who fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers so that they could escape exile to the first attempts at flight in China around 400 BC, humans have always had a fixation with flying.

Originally, we tried to fly like a bird with Hero of Alexandria’s Aeolipile and Lenardo da Vinci’s Omithopter.  Then, we tried hot air balloons.  So in 1783, the Montgolfier brothers flew on the first hot air balloon, which was constructed out of linen and paper and heated from a fire on the ground.  Since they were a bit apprehensive about the flight, to say the least, they decided to send a couple of their furry and feathered friends instead – a pig, duck and rooster.  Though there is little historical data to support this contention, I’m sure the pig, duck, and rooster (or possibly a sheep) had quite a time on that inaugural one-mile flight.

Fast forward over 220 years to 1973.  Ironically, a little North Carolina town about 40 miles west of Winston-Salem became a hub of hot air ballooning.  Statesville has played a pretty significant part in the history of ballooning.  Tracy Barnes, founder of The Balloon Works, started manufacturing and selling hot air balloons in Statesville in 1973.  (Carolina BalloonFest 2011). As the founder and original inventor of The Balloon Works, Tracy created a unique Styrofoam basket in 1964.  He coupled the lightweight basked with the hydrogen filled gas balloon, and on May 10, 1964, he flew to an altitude of 38,650 feet.  Reaching this altitude qualified him to receive 11 world altitude records.  (The U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame). In order to prepare himself for such a high altitude, Tracy supplied himself with a black bag filled with oxygen, and, just in case he passed out, the plywood bottom would drop out of the Styrofoam basket allowing him to drop out of the basket  From there, his parachute would open and softly land on the earth below.  Though it was a neat feature, luckily Tracy did not have to use it.  Safety and affordability became a major goal of The Balloon Works.  Because of this focus, the market for hot air balloons erupted across the United States.

Since the early 1960s, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), part of the U. S. Department of Transportation, has been involved in regulating Balloon Flying.  For example, under Part 31 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the FAA provides the airworthiness standards for manned free balloons, which has only been amended once in 1976.  [As a side note, the FAA keeps a database of all the historical versions of the CFR and Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFARs) that dates back to 1965]. But with the spur of excitement surrounding ballooning, the FAA has published a plethora of information since then. In 2008, the FAA published the Balloon Flying Handbook, which provides introductory material on balloon flight training guidelines, hot air balloon design, systems and theory, preflight planning, weather theory and reports, an overview on the National Airspace System, skill requirements for layout to launch and in-flight maneuvers, aeromedical factors, as well as various other processes and procedures important to safe ballooning.

Not only have hot air balloons been the topic of federal administrative regulations, but they have been a source of litigation.  For example, here a couple of fun gas-o-strophic cases brought in the U.S.

  • Guille v. Swan, 19 Johns. (N.Y.) 381 (1822). Where a man took off in a hot-air balloon and landed, without intending to, in a vegetable garden in New York City. A crowd that had been anxiously watching his involuntary descent trampled the vegetables in their endeavor to rescue him when he landed. The owner of the garden sued the balloonist for the resulting damage, and won. Yet the balloonist had not been careless. In the then state of ballooning it was impossible to make a pinpoint landing.  See all the ways this document has been cited (9 times throughout history).
  • American Laundry Machinery Industries v. Timothy Edward Horan, et al., 45 Md. App. 97, 412 A. 2d 407 (1980).  “This is a ‘products liability’ case; it is a most unusual one, and also a most tragic one. Timothy Horan was a balloonist – the ‘up, up and away’ kind.  He owned a large hot air balloon that, for fun and profit, he used in various promotional events.” Id. Mr. Stair, who owned the Up-to-Date Laundry, induced Mr. Horan to fly his balloon in promoting his laundry mat in exchange for a cleaning if the balloon became dirty.  Though, Mr. Stair did not own a machine large enough to wash the balloon, he was able to locate one through his professional contacts.  Mr. Horan and Mr. Jessop (VP of Up-to-Date) took the balloon to Sinai Hospital as set up through Mr. Stair.  Once there, the balloon was washed, in its deflated state, without incident.  Unfortunately, the trouble began “when the wet balloon (128 pounds dry weight)” was placed in the dryer. Id. After several attempts of trying to get the machine from jarring severely from side to side, it ran smoothly.  But only for less than a minute.  “When, without warning, it suddenly, instantaneously, came wildly apart and disintegrated, strewing shrapnel throughout the room. The parties characterized what happened as an “explosion.” One piece of flying metal virtually amputated Fred Jessop’s left arm, wiping out his wrist completely. Timothy Horan had his abdomen sliced open.” Id. The balloon was destroyed and the claim is brought against the manufacture for a defective dryer.  So what happened? Read the full-text on GoogleScholar.

And one last tradition.  Upon landing, it is common for balloonists to have a champagne toast.  Legend has it that the early Frenchmen carried champagne with them on their flights to appease angry or frightened audiences at the landing site. Perhaps, balloonist should still carry on that tradition — it might have helped the balloonist in  Guille v. Swan, 19 Johns. (N.Y.) 381 (1822). And lastly, many balloonists tip off the champagne with the Balloon’s Prayer, which is an old Irish toast for ballooning

“The winds have welcomed us with softness.

The sun has blessed us with its warm hands.

We have flown so high and so well

That God has set us gently back into

The loving arms of mother earth.”

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