August 11, 1978: Crossing the Atlantic in a Balloon

Posted on Thu, August 11, 2016

On this day in 1978, Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman took off from Presque Isle, Maine in the gas balloon Double Eagle II in an attempt to cross the Atlantic. The successful crossing took 137 hours, 6 minutes and covered 5,021 kilometers (3,120 miles) landing in a wheat field near Miserey, France.

This was the first successful transatlantic crossing by a manned balloon.

Double Eagle II Over Farmland during its Transatlantic Flight

The Double Eagle II over farmland. Image: NASM 7A43915

After Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight across the Atlantic, ballooning across the ocean remained one of the great, unconquered aviation challenges. Abruzzo and Anderson failed at their first attempt in 1977, but less than a year later with a long-time friend, Newman, the group found success.

Not without challenges, of course. Extreme temperature variations during the flight caused ice to build up outside the balloon each night, and heat from the sun caused helium to expand during the day. This led to what the pilots called the “Big Drop.” On Aug 6, 1978, Double Eagle II lowered to 1,219 meters (4,000 feet) due to atmospheric conditions and then rose to 7,315 meters (24,000) feet the same afternoon after being heated by the sun.

Double Eagle 2 Gondola

The Double Eagle II gondola is on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.