National Geographic : 1936 Jan
MAN'S FARTHEST ALOFT Photograph by Richard H. Stewart POINTING FOR THE SKY AND STRAINING TO BE OFF The Explorer II here towers 315 feet above the ground, higher than the dome of the United States Capitol, as the process of inflation nears completion. Soldiers are holding the spiderweb of mooring ropes attached to the upper catenary band of the balloon. To the right, at the edge of the floodlighted circle, the gondola is being wheeled out for attachment. Through the tubular "sleeves" (left) the helium is flowing into the bag. However, we knew that the moment we as cended 200 feet in the air, the top of the balloon, now towering 315 feet above us, would be in the air current of approximately eight miles an hour that was sweeping across the rim of the bowl. TAKE-OFF FASTER THAN RACING BALLOONS The velocity of the wind had been ob served constantly throughout the night by our recording instruments on the rim, and during the hour before the take-off an in crease from six to eight miles an hour was registered. Our problem was to shoot the balloon from the ground with such speed that it would not drift sidewise enough to hit the trees on the rim of the bowl. When Cap tain Anderson gave the signal to release the ropes, we shot upward at a much greater speed than is given racing balloons on take-off. Our huge craft moved faster and faster, and it was evident that we were clearing the walls of the bowl with ease. Captain Anderson was on the outside of the gon dola; I was inside. We could look over the tree tops, see the plains beyond, and we knew that we were fully 100 feet above the rim. Captain Anderson started to climb down through the open porthole. Suddenly he shouted to me, "I believe the balloon is leaking!" I looked out of my manhole, saw that we were settling fast and sweeping down over the heads of the thousands of specta tors. I recalled the first flight of Commander T. G. W. Settle at Chicago, when his valve stuck open, and when he rose a few thou sand feet, only to come down almost imme diately in the railroad yards of Chicago. And so my first thought was to do as Settle was forced to do on that memorable occa sion: help discharge ballast fast enough to keep the balloon afloat until we could clear the spectators and perhaps get over an open space among the trees. There was not a second to lose.