National Geographic : 1959 Jul
"No. An American, John Wise, planned a west-to-east flight in 1873, but his balloon blew apart during inflation. After repairs, another pilot took it up but crashed in Con necticut. There's no other try on record." I began to think. From a sailor's point of view the trades are an ideal ally. They scud along at an unflagging 10 to 15 miles an hour, astern of a westbound craft. Abruptly I made up my mind. "How much do you think such a trip would cost?" I asked Colin. "Oh," he said, doubtless sharing my own vision of packing a few suitcases and a cyl inder of gas, "about 2,000 pounds." If I had known that Colin's margin of error would eventually prove to be 1,100 percent, I should have fled the premises without an other word. Instead, I said, "Let's do it!" Scientists Give Their Support Suddenly we were all talking at once. And before the night was over, Rosemary had drawn a list of tasks that each of us was to perform. Shortly thereafter we also recruited a fourth crew member-my son Tim, who was studying chemical engineering at Cambridge University. Since none of us knew the first thing about ballooning, we feared that those we ap proached for guidance would think us utterly mad. But C. H. Gibbs-Smith, England's lead ing writer on the subject, heard us out with interest and referred us to the University of Bristol. There Prof. C. F. Powell, a Nobel laureate, uses balloons in his extensive research on cosmic rays. Powell not only considered 124 our plan feasible but provided us with valuable advice on construction. Eventually we gained the assistance of the Ministry of Supply's Research and Develop ment Establishment. The Air Ministry Mete orological Office generously provided us with a wealth of information on the weather we would face. The Imperial College of Science and Tech nology in London, which has specialized in studies of the trade winds, also came to our support. Researchers at the college had no direct information on how temperature, humid ity, and wind velocity change inside the mov ing trade-wind air mass. Prof. P. A. Sheppard saw in our projected flight an opportunity to obtain useful observations. A free balloon travels at the same velocity as its propelling winds, encased in the air mass like a fly in amber. We would therefore be in an ideal position to make key meteorological observations of the trades. Professor Shep pard outfitted us with some 70 pounds of ex pensive lightweight instruments, and Tim spent two months studying meteorology in order to carry out an elaborate program of observations. Wind movements across the Atlantic also intrigued the Institute of Navigation, and Colin was requested to provide pertinent in formation on navigational problems we might encounter. Such widespread endorsement came as a tonic to our hopes. But just as confidence began to burgeon, we came a cropper. Our road led to the Government's lighter-than-air base at Cardington, 45 miles north of London.