"When we left the launch site, we were prepared to travel 3,200 miles across the Atlantic Ocean or die trying. We climbed to an altitude of 18,000 feet with only our instruments to guide us. At night all we could see was the blackness of the sky and ocean. We fought off sleep and extreme cold as the Double Eagle moved slowly towards Europe at about 60 miles per hour. There were times when we lost radio contact and feared we had failed. But after 137 hours in the air, we began our dangerous and difficult descent over Paris. When we finally touched down safely, we fell to our knees and cried tears of joy and relief. Our dream of being the first to cross the Atlantic by balloon was now a reality."
The successful transatlantic flight of the Double Eagle II in August of 1978 was a pioneering achievement in the history of aviation and captured the spirit of exploration.
The seemingly preposterous notion of crossing the vast Atlantic ocean in a wicker gondola suspended from a balloon was scoffed at by critics in the lead up to the launch.
Many deemed the voyage impossible, perhaps even suicidal.
Yet the three aeronauts—Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman—were determined to be the first to conquer the skies between the new world and the old.
Their flying machine was primitive by modern standards—just a vast bag of the lightest materials, filled with hot air and the dreams of adventure.
After several failed attempts over many years, the moment finally arrived in the summer of '78.
The world watched anxiously as the giant balloon drifted into the skies above Maine on August 11th, carrying the hopes and fears of all who dared to push boundaries.
For nearly six days, the balloonists battled challenging weather, technical failures and sheer exhaustion. At times, survival seemed unlikely. Yet their skill and perseverance ultimately prevailed.
137 hours after launch, the Double Eagle II triumphantly touched down in Miserey, into the history books as the first hot air balloon to cross the Atlantic.
The three brave pilots of the Double Eagle II were pioneers of the air in every sense.
At the controls was Ben Abruzzo, a daring balloon explorer who had long dreamt of being the first to span the Atlantic by balloon. His earlier transmissions of the Pacific had proven his skill and ambition as an aeronaut.
His co-pilot was Maxie Anderson, another legendary figure in the ballooning community, having broken records for altitude and endurance in gas balloons.
Between the two sat Larry Newman, a mechanical engineer whose technical expertise kept the balloon soaring.
All three had spent years honing their aviation talents for this very moment in history. They knew the perils of their trailblazing attempt only too well.
Many experts decried the journey as beyond current capabilities, warning of the likely loss of life. Atlantic storms, frigid temperatures and equipment failures could doom the flyers at any point.
Yet their vision outweighed their caution.
Each man steeled himself for the hazardous voyage, spurred on by the tantalizing opportunity to be the first to conquer the skies from the New World to the Old. Though anxious of the dangers ahead, their spirits soared with dreams of aviation immortality.
So as the Double Eagle II rose over Presque Isle, Maine that fateful August day, the world watched in awe at the bravery of these three ballooning brothers, risking all to push the boundaries of their pioneering craft.
Their mettle would be tested in the skies ahead.
The ambitious dream of crossing the Atlantic by balloon was years in the making for the Double Eagle II team. Their initial goal was to launch the historic flight in 1977, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's groundbreaking transatlantic airplane journey.
However, raising the necessary funds to finance such a risky and expensive endeavor proved to be a major roadblock.
Complex technical challenges also hampered construction of the specialized balloon and gondola.
These difficulties forced the team to push the launch back to 1978.
As months of delays dragged on, confidence waned among both the public and the balloonists themselves that they could pull off the feat. The many setbacks raised worrying doubts that the mission was simply beyond the capabilities of current technology and aeronautical experience.
Perhaps the Atlantic winds were too unpredictable, the balloon material too fragile, the weather too extreme for any human to survive the journey.
Gloom set in as the postponed launch date approached. Were the balloonists marching to their doom on a foolish errand?
Yet the Double Eagle II team remained resolved in their ambition, despite legitimate fears that disaster awaited.
They steeled themselves against both the external skepticism and their own private doubts. For now, hope persisted that somehow skill, technology and good fortune would carry them across the ocean.
But as the balloon inflated that August morning, the three men knew more than anyone the mortal risks ahead.
They bid farewell to loved ones, uncertain if they would meet again on either shore of the Atlantic.
Their survival was far from assured.
The Double Eagle II was a marvel of lightweight design and innovative materials, specially engineered to make the first transatlantic balloon crossing possible.
The balloon envelope measured an enormous 8 stories tall when fully inflated on the launch field.
Yet constructed of incredibly thin and delicate polyurethane plastic, the balloon could fold down small enough to fit inside a single van when deflated. This astonishing compactness provided a mobile launching platform ideal for the remote takeoff site in northern Maine.
The thin skin was also remarkably lightweight, allowing the tremendous balloon to reach the high altitude winds that made Atlantic crossing achievable.
At just 3 thousandths of an inch thick, the polymer material was lighter than a plastic bag, but strong enough to endure the journey.
Or so the designers hoped.
In truth, the balloon's fragile skin raised dire concerns about its resilience. Even minor damage could cause catastrophic failure, spelling doom for the crew's survival.
Like Icarus and his wax wings, the very design that lifted them to the heavens also threatened calamity if heat, storms or debris pierced the gossamer skin.
Yet for all the risks, the Double Eagle II's ingenious construction enabled what previous balloons simply could not attempt.
Its record-breaking lightness was the key to riding the narrow airways across the ocean. The balloonist's lives depended completely on the quivering bubble lifting them beyond their fears.
The three men aboard the Double Eagle II endured immense hardship and danger during their pioneering transatlantic flight. Crammed into the small gondola beneath the balloon, they traveled with minimal provisions for their survival.
The biggest threat was lack of oxygen at the extreme altitudes they flew. Their limited supply meant strictly rationing every precious breath, even as the freezing cold air stabbed their lungs.
Staying adequately oxygenated was critical yet ever uncertain.
They also had zero source of warmth in the brutally icy conditions. Heaters would have weighed too much, so the crew bundled in multiple layers, yet still suffered frostbite on their extremities as the cold pierced their clothing.
Simply staying conscious against the hypothermic conditions exacted a toll.
Equipment failures plagued their progress, from radio outages to fuel canister leaks.
Each new crisis tested their resolve and resourcefulness.
At one desperate point, Maxie Anderson advocated abandoning the doomed mission. Only Ben Abruzzo's determination held the team together.
Despite close brushes with catastrophe, camaraderie and shared purpose kept weary souls and bodies going. Somehow the bobbled Eagle II stayed airborne, often flying precariously low.
Hope lifted spirits from depths of despair.
As the Double Eagle II made its way across the Atlantic, the appearance of the bizarre craft caused quite a stir as it passed over the emerald fields of Ireland.
Many farmers tending their flocks were startled when the gigantic balloon suddenly appeared in the skies overhead.
To these isolated rural people, the huge silver object floating silently above was utterly inexplicable. Its alien design and great size made the balloon seem as if an extraterrestrial spacecraft had descended upon the land!
Panicked witnesses spread word of the unidentifiable flying object, stoking fears among the superstitious locals.
Had invaders from Mars arrived to conquer Ireland? What other explanation could there be for such an astonishing sight?
With no advance word of the balloon's flight path, the remote population could only speculate wildly about the true nature of the silver apparition.
A few fanciful souls even claimed to see alien inhabitants aboard the bizarre craft.
Only when the Double Eagle II landed triumphantly in France did awestruck villagers in Ireland finally learn the truth. The so-called UFO was merely an audacious invention of human ingenuity, not alien technology.
The successful landing of the Double Eagle II in France after its transatlantic journey quickly took an unexpected turn.
As the balloon touched down in a French farm field, the fatigued balloonists were at last able to celebrate their amazing accomplishment.
However, the mission was not yet over.
Strong winds suddenly arose, catching the lighter-than-air craft once more.
To the horror of farmers, the runaway balloon dragged its gondola wildly across their property, damaging valuable crops and fences.
The balloon eventually came to rest over the border in West Germany, creating an international incident.
Irate French farmers demanded compensation for their losses from the American team. West German authorities also filed grievances over the unauthorized balloon landing and subsequent disturbances.
In the aftermath, thorny legal issues and diplomatic wrangling cast a shadow over the feted achievement.
Damage claims and lawsuits had to be settled between the balloonists, irate citizens and two national governments.
The unexpected second landing proved to be the final unexpected trial for the voyagers to resolve. Navigating the tangled web of international law and diplomacy became the final milestone before their journey truly entered the history books.
While the Double Eagle II succeeded gloriously in conquering the skies, tangled earthly affairs nearly dragged down the buoyant spirits of its worthy crew in the end.
Yet like the winds that first carried them aloft, the plucky balloonists rose above the ensuing storms on the ground.